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Last week’s National Guard activation by Gov. Brad Little adds hundreds of new medical personnel for Idaho hospitals that are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, among which are facilities in Cottonwood (St. Mary’s Health) and Orofino (Clearwater Valley Health).

Officials at both the state and local levels are addressing the solution to the crisis is more Idahoans choosing to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.

“We are seeing a big uptick of patients at all of our facilities,” according to SMH/CVH spokesperson Kim Johnson, “and many of them are needing care beyond the capacity of our area hospitals. It is impacting our staffing capabilities, as well, and we are seeing a much larger number of teens and children who are getting very sick. The projections, at this rate, are only expected to get worse. That could mean shutting down sports, schools, etc., and we do not want to see that happen.”

What are the local numbers?

According to SMH-CVH infection prevention coordinator, Colleen Bennett, the positivity rate for Aug. 22-28 was 31.01 percent at SMH and 33.67 percent at CVH. (For definition, the positivity rate is how prevalent positive cases of the disease are, when compared to the number of tests being done.)

Reported last week, according to Bennett, only four adult ICU beds were available in the entire state. Public Health District 2 (Idaho, Lewis, Clearwater, Nez Perce and Latah counties) stated 100 percent of the samples undergoing genome sequencing were showing up as the Delta variant.

“Unlike the last round we had of COVID,” Johnson said, “we are seeing our younger population get hit with this new variant. We are seeing very sick patients of all ages, our hospital beds here and across the region are full, and staffing is short. It’s a ‘perfect storm,’ if you will, for a lot of poor outcomes.”

These local numbers reflect what is happening on a larger scale, according to Kootenai Health, which owns SMH and CVH.

“We are seeing the same trends right now in all of our local communities,” Johnson said. “Additionally, unlike the initial virus, the Delta variant is having a greatly increased impact on children. In the last couple of weeks, the American Academy of Pediatrics has reported a significant increase in COVID-19 cases among people under 18 years of age, and that extends to younger children as much as to older teenagers.

We know that the delta variant is much more contagious and is spreading rapidly. We also know that the majority of people impacted are unvaccinated, which isn’t to say that fully vaccinated people are not contracting the virus. They are, but they are not getting as sick, nor requiring hospitalization or intensive care.”

Johnson continued, “Vaccination is the best protection against COVID. For you, for your children, and for your neighbors. As your healthcare partner, we care about all of our patients and our staff, and we strongly urge you to consider becoming fully vaccinated — not because we have some hidden agenda, and not because we are trying to force you to do anything, but because we don’t want to continue to watch those we care for, and about, continue to become incredibly ill, or even die.”

Overall, Gov. Little is adding up to 370 additional personnel to assist hospitals with the surge, which at this point do not include SMH, CVH or Syringa Hospital in Grangeville. Of these personnel, up to 150 guardsmen will support short-staffed medical facilities, tasked with logistical support such as screenings, lab work, and other duties. 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 they are experiencing the greatest need.

“I hope it will be enough for us to avoid statewide crisis standards of care, but we are teetering on the brink and there is only one real solution — we need more Idahoans to choose to receive the safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine now,” Governor Little said.

Some Idaho schools have already been forced to transition to remote learning because of COVID-19 outbreaks among staff and families. Addressing the Idahoans who are still on the fence or are just putting off receiving the vaccine, Governor Little said the time to get vaccinated is now, so our kids can have a normal school year.

“I want to thank the more than 818,000 Idahoans who have shown love for their neighbor by choosing to receive the safe and effective vaccine. To the others, please choose to receive the vaccine now to protect lives, help our exhausted medical staff, keep healthcare access available to all of us, keep our work force healthy, and keep our kids in school,” Governor Little said.