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Idaho's coronavirus surge overwhelms primary care clinics

Dr. David Peterman

BOISE — Idaho’s unchecked spread of the coronavirus has become so overwhelming in some areas that medical care providers are struggling to even answer all the phone calls from would-be patients, a health care executive said Wednesday.

Dr. David Peterman, the CEO of Primary Health Medical Group, said the company’s 20 clinics normally get about 1,800 phone calls a day. But with the pandemic raging in southwestern Idaho, the clinics are now getting 3,000 calls a day.

Meanwhile, he said, nine Primary Health care providers and 38 staffers are out because they are sick or in quarantine. Six clinics have had to close at various times in recent weeks because of low staffing.

“We are at the point where I can’t tell you for sure we can answer your phone calls,” Peterman said. “Regardless of what political party you’re in, you need to be able to see your doctor. I’m telling you, our clinics are being overwhelmed — if we cannot answer our phones, we cannot take care of our patients.”

A tally by Johns Hopkins University shows more than 75,400 Idaho residents have been infected with the virus and at least 714 have died. Statewide, the average number of daily new cases in the past two weeks has increased by more than 34%. One in every 209 people in the state tested positive for coronavirus in the past week.

Much of the national and local focus has been on hospitals being overwhelmed. St. Luke’s Magic Valley hospital in the Twin Falls region had to temporarily divert intensive care unit patients to Boise on Tuesday night, and turn down requests to take new patients from a hospital in Elko, Nevada.

The Nevada hospital turned to Idaho for help after Utah hospitals were unable to take the patients. St. Luke’s Medical Center hospitals in the Boise region were also busy and nearing capacity on Wednesday, St. Luke’s spokeswoman Anita Kissée said on Twitter.

But the pandemic’s strain on health care systems goes far deeper than emergency rooms and hospital beds. Currently, one out of every three people coming into Primary Health clinics for coronavirus testing is positive for the virus.

“It should frighten all of us,” Peterman said of the virus numbers. “It’s easy to look at TV, and say, ‘I’m not in the intensive care unit, my grandmother’s not in the intensive care unit.’ But if I say to you your doctor cannot treat your child with an ear infection, because I cannot answer your phone call, or your doctor is on quarantine, or our clinics are full with people with coronavirus? I am a clear example: We are being overwhelmed.”

Earlier this week, Idaho Gov. Brad Little again urged Idahoans to wear masks, wash hands and practice social distancing to slow the spread of the virus. But he has declined to issue a statewide mask mandate, instead leaving the decision to regional health districts.

The districts are led by boards, often made up of county commissioners, laypeople and one or two medical professionals each. Ten of Idaho’s 44 counties and 10 cities have issued mask mandates.

“I’m asking our political leaders to take action,” Peterman said. “I support them, I’m not trying to make it difficult for them. I’m a pediatrician and I have no political agenda — I take care of your children, and to protect you, to protect your children, to protect us, we need to acknowledge how serious it is. This virus is out of control.”

Peterman said leaders should require masks, take steps to limit people crowding together and limit extracurricular activities for kids.

“Schools, frankly, have been relatively safe and there isn’t good data to say that necessarily the spread comes from the schools, but when you look at the extracurricular activities — and parents, relatives, friends — those interactions are concerning,” he said.

Governor honors veterans, notes lack of parade this year due to COVID
  • Updated

BOISE — Gov. Brad Little joined Idaho National Guard leaders, Boise Mayor Lauren McLean, U.S. Sen. Jim Risch and others on the steps of the state Capitol Wednesday to pay honor to Idaho veterans, and to tout the Red Cross, which is in the midst of a big fundraising drive in Idaho for its longstanding program to serve veterans and their families.

“I do miss the fact that normally at this time, there’s an incredible veterans parade that goes by here,” Little said. “Of all the things that we’ve missed because of the pandemic, some of the celebrations that we have in our own lives and our families, the loss of the Veterans (Day) Parade is a big one for Idaho. Next year we’ll be back, and it’ll even be a better parade next year, where the streets are lined with people waving American flags, veterans, active, Guard, reserve from all the branches are here and all the people that support the military.

“A thriving republic depends upon its citizens honoring those who serve and have served in the military forces, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice and their families,” the governor said. “Without these brave heroes, we would not have the freedoms guaranteed in our Constitution. We are completely indebted to them for our high quality of life. Liberty and prosperity did not come without sacrifices, and we are ever grateful to those who have been willing to pay the cost.”

He renewed his call for Idahoans to wear masks, practice social distancing and wash hands to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in order to protect Idaho veterans, including those suffering through a major COVID-19 outbreak at the Idaho State Veterans Home in Boise and the Boise VA Medical Center. “I implore all Idahoans to make that minor sacrifice, to recognize the major sacrifice that our veterans did make,” Little said.

Nicole Sirak Irwin, regional CEO of the Red Cross of Greater Idaho, said, “We are so grateful to our veterans and our current serving military service members, and of course all their families, for their tremendous sacrifices they make for our country. The Red Cross was born on the battlefield,” she said. “We’ve served our veteran community and our military members for 140 years. … We strive every day to make their lives a little easier.”

The Red Cross Service to Armed Forces program makes contact with military leaders when a military member or their family faces a crisis or major event, whether it’s a birth or a house that burns or another significant development. The program has done that 1,100 times in Idaho in the past year, Irwin said; sometimes, it’s resulted in bringing a military member home to attend to the crisis.

The program is funded partly by the U.S. Department of Defense and partly by private donations; the Red Cross is in the midst of a fund drive for the program with a goal of raising $50,000. It’s already raised more than $45,000, just in the past month. Two Red Cross board members, Roy Eiguren and Andy Marshall, made matching donation pledges totaling $26,000.

Irwin said the program is committed to supporting military members, veterans and their families both during and after their service. “Words are not enough, and we hope with all our hearts that they all know how thankful we are to them,” she said during the ceremony on Wednesday.

Risch also spoke at the ceremony. “Today, we’re gathered to thank all of our veterans, especially the more than 120,000 Idahoans who have served our country,” he said. “Today, it’s about you.”

Risch said, “Veterans, you inspire us. … The strength of this country is not a political party, it’s not an individual, but rather it is we the American people, individually and collectively. You, you are who bring this home, and it’s you that we have to thank for this. Thank you, thank you to all of you.”

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Bogus Basin gets big snow dump, reports pass sales so 'robust' they may be cut off this week
  • Updated

BOISE — Bogus Basin received 11 inches of snow overnight Tuesday, and likely will be cutting off season pass sales this week to maintain social distancing on the mountain this winter.

Season passholders will be given priority for skiing and riding at the nonprofit, community-owned resort just north of Boise; on busy days, day lift ticket sales will be limited.

“We just want to make sure that we’ll be able to safely manage the people on the mountain,” said Susan Saad, director of communication and customer relations for Bogus. “I know that it won’t be long before we’re cutting off those passes. A specific date has not been set; pass sales are robust now that the snow is falling.”

Full-access season passes are currently selling for $459 and are available on the resort’s website, bogusbasin.org. Saad said the resort doesn’t plan to limit sales of other types of passes, including night season passes and midweek season passes.

“With the great snowmaking conditions and natural snowfall, there’s a possibility we could open a week earlier than our Nov. 27 projected date,” she said. “That being said, the team on the mountain has a lot of work to do, and we’re putting a lot of COVID-19 safety modifications in place. So we’re monitoring that situation, and we’ll make an announcement on that.”

The resort’s crew is installing four large tents that will be extensions to its food and beverage outlets in lodges, as lodge occupancy will be limited due to the virus.

“We are adding 8,000 square feet of additional outdoor tented seating for guests who need to come in and have a quick lunch and take shelter,” Saad said.

Crews also are installing “lots of signage around the mountain,” she said, and hiring additional teams to continuously clean and sanitize facilities in the area.

“Hiring is coming along well,” she said; the resort is in the midst of hiring 400 seasonal employees for its winter season. “We still have positions open.”

Bogus Basin also has purchased two electronic sign boards to be placed at the bottom of Bogus Basin Road, to alert travelers of “any limits to day ticket sales, road conditions, things like that,” she said.

“If we did open early, which of course is a big ‘if,’ it would be the earliest opening since the ’94-’95 season,” Saad said. “So regardless, it’s just a phenomenal start to a season and everyone’s so eager to have positive news. It’s really thrilling.”