Idaho sees largest COVID spike, could start sending patients to cities like Seattle

Idaho is seeing its largest coronavirus spike since the pandemic began, with new cases increasing by 46.5% over the past two weeks.

Some health care experts are urging the state’s governor to take additional action to slow the spread of the virus.

Dr. Bart Hill, a vice president with St. Luke’s Regional Health System, says Idaho’s current approach hasn’t worked to change the pandemic’s trajectory.

On Wednesday, officials with Kootenai Health, in the northern part of Idaho, said it’s close to reaching capacity.

Usually, the hospital could turn to Spokane hospitals, but health officials said they are not taking additional patients right now, which could lead to patients being sent to other cities like Seattle.

As cases increase, it is driving Kootenai Health to the brink, reaching a capacity of 99% for people needing medical or surgical care.

“I think all of us are ready to return to normal life as soon as we can, but the unfortunate reality is that’s not happening,” said Andrea Nagel with Kootenai Health.

Officials with the hospital said that the new normal means possibly sending patients to the Seattle and Portland areas as several regional hospitals near Spokane have either said no to taking transferred patients or have been highly selective in who they admit.

“In Yakima, patients, when they got overwhelmed there, patients went all over the state, and other hospitals sent supplies to them and made sure every single patient got cared for,” said Cassie Sauer with the Washington State Hospital Association.

Seattle area hospitals have accepted patients from crowded hospitals before. The Washington State Hospital Association, which tracks hospital capacity levels, told KIRO 7 Tuesday that King County hospital capacity is 76%, which is below average but does not erase concerns that linger.

“We are concerned about the number of cases rising in Washington state, especially in King County,” Sauer said.

Officials with Kootenai Health said they are now seeing the highest rate of positive COVID-19 tests since the start of the pandemic. Health officials have warned rising cases now could mean more hospitalizations in the coming weeks, which means they could lean heavier on areas like Seattle.

“We understand the fatigue that has come with the COVID restrictions, so now it’s time for us just to be just as diligent,” Nagel said.

It is not clear where any of those patients could go if sent to western Washington.

KIRO 7 reached out to the University of Washington Medicine, which includes Harborview Medical Center, and the hospital said it has not received any transfer patients.