little guard

Gov. Brad Little shakes hands with an Idaho National guardsman next to a Black Hawk helicopter at the Hillcrest Aircraft Co. at the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport in July.

BOISE — Just seven weeks after the last Idaho National Guard deployment ended, Gov. Brad Little on Tuesday activated troops and called in federal personnel to help Idaho hospitals cope with a COVID-19 surge that’s filled them beyond capacity.

“On a daily call with hospitals this morning, we heard there are only four standard adult ICU beds available in the entire state,” Little said in a live-streamed video address to the state. “We are dangerously close to activating statewide crisis standards of care, a historic step that means Idahoans in need of health care could receive a lesser standard of care or may be turned away altogether. In essence, someone would have to decide who can be treated and who cannot. This affects all of us, not just patients with COVID-19.”

The governor mobilized up to 150 guardsmen to support short-staffed medical facilities across the state with tasks such as screenings, lab work and other duties. He also called in 200 additional medical and administrative personnel to be made available to Idaho through a contract with the U.S. General Services Administration.

In addition, the governor announced that a 20-person Department of Defense medical response team will be deployed to North Idaho, where vaccination rates are among the lowest in the state and where the current surge has been particularly overwhelming.

Idaho reported more than 2,300 additional infections between Friday and Monday, and the statewide test-positivity rate now exceeds 26%, according to tracking by the John Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center. A 5% or lower positivity rate signals the virus is under control.

The vast majority of COVID-19 patients who are filling up Idaho’s intensive care units and hospital beds are unvaccinated, the governor said.

“Idaho hospitals are beyond constrained,” he said. “Our health care system is designed to deal with the everyday realities of life. Our health care system is not designed to withstand the prolonged strain caused by a global pandemic. It is simply not sustainable. Please choose to receive the vaccine now to support your fellow Idahoans who need you.”

Just last week, Little announced the opening of three monoclonal antibody treatment centers across the state, to treat patients at risk for severe COVID but who have not yet sickened enough to require hospitalization.

He’s also again waived temporary licensing fees for retired or inactive nurses, for a second straight year, so they can re-enter the workforce. Last year, more than 1,000 nurses and other health professionals used the waiver to step back in to help with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Idaho’s previous National Guard deployment for the COVID-19 pandemic started in March of 2020 and eventually included more than 300 personnel, who worked on everything from vaccine administration to testing, decontamination and other support for hospitals, health districts, other health care facilities and native American tribes.

That deployment ended July 9.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.