Idaho now has more than 600 patients hospitalized with Covid-19, about 20 percent higher than a previous peak in December. Only 40 percent of the state’s residents are fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in the nation, compared with 61 percent in Washington State, one of the highest. Last week, Idaho took the extraordinary step of moving its hospitals in the northern part of the state to crisis standards of care — the threshold at which facilities facing overwhelming caseloads are authorized to ration their resources, perhaps withholding or delaying optimal care for some patients. The strain on health care facilities is particularly evident in northern Idaho, where the vaccination rate is even lower; the area just hosted the North Idaho State Fair, and in a region where there is deep wariness of government, no mask orders or other strategies were adopted to halt the spread of the virus. At Kootenai Health in Coeur d’Alene, a conference room has been converted to house excess patients.
On the Washington side of the border, residents must wear masks when gathering indoors, students who are exposed to Covid face quarantine requirements, and many workers are under vaccination orders. On the Idaho side, none of those precautions are in place. At a time when Washington State hospitals are delaying procedures and struggling with their own high caseloads, some leaders in the state see Idaho’s outsourcing of Covid patients as a troubling example of how the failure to aggressively confront the virus in one state can deepen a crisis in another.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Cassie Sauer, the president of the Washington State Hospital Association. “If you have your health care system melting down, the idea that you would not immediately issue a mask mandate is just bizarre. They need to be doing everything they can possibly do.” “As they’ve seen increasing Covid volumes, we’ve seen increasing calls for help from all over northern Idaho,” Dr. Daniel Getz, chief medical officer for Providence Sacred Heart, said in an interview. As he spoke, a medical helicopter descended with a new delivery.
In Idaho, Gov. Brad Little’s office said he was not available for an interview, but he has indicated in recent weeks that he has no plans to restore virus restrictions, even if hospitals entered dangerous territory, saying that he wanted residents “to choose to do the right thing and get vaccinated.” He issued a statement on Friday saying he was exploring legal action to halt a mandate from President Biden that will require millions of people to get vaccinated. “President Biden is out of touch, and his mandates only add to the divisiveness within our country,” Mr. Little said. “We certainly need our friends in Idaho government to do more to preserve their citizens’ health, because we know that their crisis is becoming our problem,” Washington’s Democratic governor, Jay Inslee, said last week. “I’m asking the people of Idaho to adopt some of the safety measures — like masking requirements — like we have in Washington so we can help both of our states reduce this horrible pandemic.”
But Washington is in better shape than Idaho, where hospitalizations as a share of the population are 45 percent higher. With the Delta strain of the coronavirus sweeping the nation, Washington State has faced its own challenges and record hospitalizations, especially in areas on the eastern side of the state where vaccination rates are lower. This week, that state, too, began talking openly about the possibility that crisis standards of care could become necessary.
The News Highlights
- ‘Their Crisis’ Is ‘Our Problem’: Washington Faces Idaho Covid Cases
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