Mandate masks: Saint Alphonsus, St. Luke’s hospital systems warn of Covid overflow

Idaho health care executives are asking for a state mandate requiring people to wear masks to stop the increase of Covid-related hospital admissions before they become overwhelmed.

“If we do not reverse this trend, we are headed for a crisis,” said Chris Roth, St. Luke’s Health System president and CEO.

Roth appeared in https://vimeo.com/438316705/aa4e616ce4an unusual joint news conference with other health executives to plead their case that the pandemic is worsening fast in the Treasure Valley. That included represents of the Saint Alphonsus system, which operates the hospital in Ontario as part of its Treasure Valley network.

The executives spoke in unison about their concerns and asked individuals and government agencies to act immediately.

Roth said the medical experts wanted the communities to be “more vigilant” about wearing face coverings, social distancing and washing hands. He said they also want local governments across Idaho to take “aggressive actions” to mandate better adherence to such steps.

In turn, they described a rapid acceleration in Covid cases that is taxing their systems more heavily than when cases appeared to be peaking in April and May.

Roth noted that in Idaho, the state recorded 5,552 Covid cases since the pandemic started in March. In the first 13 days of July, he said, the state had 5,110 cases. Put another way, he said, nearly half of Idaho’s infections have happened in the past two weeks.

St. Luke’s runs a clinic in Fruitland, and Covid-related admissions across its facilities increased from 20 per day as of June 26 to 77 now. Their projections suggest that Covid-related admissions will double every two weeks, overwhelming facilities, Roth said, and they already had to close a central Idaho facility because their workers were reporting sick after getting Covid from the general community.

The CEOs pressed for residents to do the three W’s: wearing a mask, watching your distance, and washing your hands.

If people don’t, and the current trend continues, the health care providers will have to cancel more appointments to accommodate Covid treatment, said Odette Bolano, Saint Alphonsus Health System president and CEO.

“We know how to deal with emergencies, but dealing with sustained emergencies means we pull away all our resources to deal with one problem,” said Bolano.

Saint Alphonsus officials are again seeing fractures in its supply line, which means it may not be able to get appropriate personal protective equipment for their employees. The system now has 123 employees quarantined, compared to 25 a month ago, reducing their ability to help patients.

One month ago, while testing around 30 people every day, Saint Alphonsus could offer tests to anyone who wanted one. The system is now testing 800 people daily and is prioritizing those with clear symptoms who need a positive test to receive Covid treatment.

They shared maps showing case counts across the region. Malheur County now has 135 cases per 10,000 people, the third highest rate in Oregon. Union County, the highest, has 138 cases per 10,000 people.

Saint Alphonsus has around 45 cases across all hospitals, and that count could double within a month, said Steven Nemerson, Saint Alphonsus chief clinical officer. By Labor Day, he expects 50% of all hospital capacity to be consumed by Covid.

Nemerson also called for a mask mandate and for people to wash hands, wear masks, and watch their distance.

“The numbers are frightening, the trends are more than concerning, but we know that we have the opportunity to turn this around,” he said.

News tip? Contact reporter Aidan McGloin by email at [email protected] or call 541-473-3377.


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