EIPH 09.24

County representatives on Eastern Idaho Public Health’s board met Thursday, Sept. 24 to issue COVID-19 updates on caseloads, hospital capacity and restrictions.

Three hospitals in eastern Idaho told regional health officials Thursday morning that they’re busy coping with a rise in COVID-19 patients.

An administrator at the region’s largest hospital told Eastern Idaho Public Health’s board that it’s seeing some cases from southeastern Idaho, where two hospitals in Blackfoot and Pocatello recently said they were on “razor’s edge” of being overwhelmed by COVID-19.

“We typically get higher acuity patients from those communities anyway, but we are seeing just a consistent number of patients from Bingham County and a few from Bannock (County),” said David Hoffenberg, chief operations officer at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, which handles the brunt of trauma cases in eastern Idaho. “... We’re in contact with those administrators, and it sounds like things are steady there as well. They’re kind of in the same boat as us: Busy but managing.”

Hoffenberg said the hospital is treating 20 COVID-19 patients, and EIRMC’s main hospital facilities consistently have a census of 200 total patients, which he said “is very, very full for us.”

“We did max out our adult med surgical beds last night. We do have an overflow unit that we’re ready to open if we do see our patient load continue to pick up,” Hoffenberg said.

The health district reports 25 eastern Idaho residents were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Wednesday. EIRMC often treats patients from outside the region.

Around 50% to 60% of eastern Idaho hospitals’ ICU beds have been in use in recent weeks, an improvement from July, according to Eastern Idaho Public Health; nearly half of all hospital beds were being used Wednesday, which has remained steady throughout the pandemic.

Idaho Falls Community Hospital CEO Casey Jackman said “we have seen a big uptick in COVID over the last two weeks.” Several times in recent weeks Community Hospital has neared thresholds that indicate too many of its resources are being used, Jackman said, but the hospital didn’t surpass that level.

He also said the hospital is also seeing patients of different ages come in.

“In the past, we would see a lot of older COVID patients. We currently have a 45-year-old, and we have a 22-year-old that were both with us for a little while that were fairly sick,” Jackman said.

In Madison County, which has bubbled into a statewide hotspot recently, Madison Memorial Hospital CEO Rachel Gonzales said “pretty similar to the other reports, we’re busy.”

She said the hospital was treating two COVID-19 patients at the time. The health district reported the death of a Bonneville County female in her 60s on Tuesday and the death of a Jefferson County female in her 50s on Thursday.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, Eastern Idaho Public Health’s board voted unanimously to lift the legal health order on Custer County, which included a mask mandate and slight restrictions on gatherings.

Board member Wayne Butts, who represents Custer County, voted in favor of repealing the mandate, but he abstained from a Sept. 3 vote to issue the mandate.

“For us, I think it’s just important that we have our schools open, and that we continue to keep our schools open, so I think the work that all of our superintendents are doing in Custer County is extremely important,” Butts told board members before the vote.

Removing Custer’s mandate leaves four of eight counties in eastern Idaho with mask mandates and slight event restrictions: Bonneville, Fremont, Jefferson and Madison. All eight counties here have, at one time or another, been under legal health mandates by the regional health board.

Coronavirus cases in eastern Idaho have risen sharply since a spike brought the total caseload from a few hundred in July to 2,000 in mid-August to about 4,300 now. A wave of deaths began in late August, continuing into September, pushing the region’s COVID-19 death toll to 23 since March.

Reporter Kyle Pfannenstiel can be reached at 208-542-6754. Follow him on Twitter: @pfannyyy. He is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.