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With only 4 ICU beds left statewide amid COVID-19 surge, Idaho governor calls in National Guard

Gov. Brad Little warned that Idaho's entire healthcare system is "teetering on the brink" of implementing crisis standards of care.

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Gov. Brad Little activated hundreds of Idaho National Guard members and other personnel on Tuesday as the surge in COVID-19 cases - almost entirely among the unvaccinated - threaten to overwhelm the state's hospitals.

Little warned that Idaho's entire healthcare system is "teetering on the brink" of implementing crisis standards of care, where beds, nurses, ventilators and other care could be earmarked for those most likely to survive. 

"On a daily call with hospitals this morning, we heard there are only four standard adult ICU beds available in the entire state. Where hospitals have converted other spaces to be used as contingency ICU beds, those are filling up too," Little said. "We are dangerously close to activating statewide crisis standards of care – a historic step that means Idahoans in need of healthcare 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."

Up to 150 guardsmen will provide support for medical facilities, performing screenings, lab work, and other logistical duties that can help lift the burden on nurses and doctors. An additional 200 medical and administrative personnel will be made available to Idaho through a contract with the U.S. General Services Administration.

In addition to the guard members, 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 hospitalizations are soaring. 

"Idaho hospitals are beyond constrained. Our healthcare system is designed to deal with the everyday realities of life. Our healthcare system is not designed to withstand the prolonged strain caused by a global pandemic. It is simply not sustainable."

The governor described a "heartbreaking" visit to a nearly-full Boise ICU Monday evening - the same day Idaho hit a record high of COVID-19 patients in intensive care across the state. 

"Some were young, two were middle-aged, two patients were pregnant. I was told the average age of the patients was 43," he recounted. "All of them were struggling to breathe, and most were only breathing with the help of a machine."

Every one of the coronavirus patients in that unit was unvaccinated, he said. Fewer than half of eligible Idahoans - those 12 and older - are fully vaccinated against the virus.

"I wish everyone could see what I saw in the ICU last night," Little said.  "Please choose to receive the vaccine now to support your fellow Idahoans who need you."

The governor stopped short of mandating masks or vaccines, ordering any closures, or banning large gatherings. 

The state will allocate more money to hospitals to help them attract and retain medical staff, as well as waive licensing fees for retired or inactive nurses and doctors, and clear the path for healthcare students nearing graduation to get to work immediately. 

"I hope and pray it will be enough," Little said.

At KTVB, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: www.ktvb.com/coronavirus.

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