As intensive care units deal with overflow from a spike in COVID-19 patients statewide, Intermountain Healthcare is asking people to observe antiviral precautions.
“Health care resources across the state are increasingly under strain,” said Intermountain Medical Center Medical Director Mark Ott in a press conference Wednesday, “and that’s particularly true of our highly trained ICU care teams, who are taking care of many of these patients.”
The hospital system has launched a social media campaign that aims to connect faces to the ICU workers now shouldering the extra burden of COVID-19 hospitalizations.
“Today we’re calling upon our community members to help us in this effort,” Ott said. “We need you to mask up, to social distance appropriately, to wash your hands and stay home if you are sick.”
According to a statement signed by Logan Regional Hospital Administrator Brandon McBride, COVID-19 is placing strain on local caregivers, as well.
COVID-19 patients are “adding to high patient volumes in medical nursing units and ICUs,” McBride stated. “It’s important to remember that we continue to care for many non-COVID patients who require both medical and surgical inpatient care and high levels of ICU care, as well.”
Logan Regional’s ICU was at about 50% capacity, McBride told The Herald Journal on Friday, and general medical and surgical nursing units are nearing capacity. Most of those patients don’t have COVID-19, McBride said, but the extra strain the virus is putting on workers is an even more pressing consideration than available beds.
“Our caregivers, our nurses and our technicians are working extremely hard to stay on top of the demand,” McBride said. “And frankly, they’re tired and they’re worn out and they’re burned out. So anything we can do in the community to socially distance, to stay home when we’re sick, to wear a mask, hand hygiene — all of those things that we’ve been talking about — will help us to decrease the case counts in the community, help us to decrease the hospitalizations, and then take some pressure off of our staffing constraints.”
Chief Nursing Officer Greg Smith said Cache Valley Hospital hasn’t really seen experienced a dramatic shift due to the coronavirus uptick.
“As far as the team, everybody’s in good spirits, everybody is well-prepared and ready to care for an influx of patients if needed,” Smith said. “But we’re in pretty good shape.”
Many of the most serious patients in Cache Valley hospitals are routinely transferred to hospitals in the Ogden or Salt Lake City areas. As those ICUs fill to capacity, however, the Bear River Health Department is reporting its highest numbers of COVID-19 patients staying in local hospitals: 12 people were hospitalized in Cache County with the coronavirus, BRHD reported Friday, down from 13 on Wednesday.
Last week, Intermountain opened a surge ICU at Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George. On Wednesday, it began transferring its less serious ICU patients from its largest hospitals there, according to Ott.
Persistent messages from government and health officials that it’s up to individuals to curb the global pandemic appear haven’t stopped COVID-19 cases from ramping up sharply since shortly after schools reopened in the fall. Over the past week, an average of 16.5% of coronavirus tests performed in Cache County have come back positive, according to the Utah Department of Health’s weekly transmission risk update Thursday.
BRHD estimated there were 1,326 active cases in the three-county health district on Friday, meaning that many people have tested positive for the virus within the past three weeks and have not died. The health department had originally confirmed with individuals that their symptoms had subsided before considering them recovered, but following an outbreak at a meatpacking plant in Hyrum, its epidemiology team could not keep up with the effort and transitioned to reporting estimated, not confirmed recoveries.
Perhaps equally persistent as health officials’ calls for social distancing, hand washing and mask wearing is the spread of medical misinformation and conspiracy theories, including that the virus was created by America’s enemies, that it is on par with seasonal flu or that it will suddenly disappear in two weeks after the presidential election is over. Health experts have consistently tried to brace the public for the pandemic to last much longer, however.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, has said he believes that even though a vaccine may be available by the end of the year, it may take until the end of 2021 or longer to stamp out the virus to such low levels that the pandemic could be considered over.
Intermountain Healthcare has launched a campaign in the hopes of showing the public the toll the virus is taking on overloaded hospital workers.
“We wanted you to hear directly from those who are taking care of these patients on the front line, physicians, nurses and others, particularly in the ICU, so you can see that there are real faces and real people that are dealing with this,” Ott said.
The video is available on Intermountain Healthcare’s YouTube channel.
Should the virus continue to spread locally, McBride said the hospital’s “surge plan” includes steps it could take in the future, such as converting additional beds from other areas to inpatient beds or pausing elective surgeries.
The Intermountain Healthcare system can also implement “load balancing,” McBride said, where hospitals can transfer patients out or accept more patients depending on their capacity and staffing.
Health officials worry the pandemic might worsen during the winter months, as outdoor gatherings become less of an option and the annual flu season hits full swing.
“That’s one of the concerns right now, is when is this going to end?” McBride said. “Is this just a current surge for a week or two, three weeks and then we’re going to tail off? Or is this going to be the new norm throughout the winter? And that’s still to be determined. But if we can’t get ahead of it now, our caregivers are going to be in a really tough spot and really, really tired.”