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Staff at Saint Alphonsus Medical Center deliver food to patients in the intensive care unit on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, in Nampa.

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A rising tide of COVID-19 cases is straining health care facilities across the United States, write Idaho Press reporters Thomas Plank, Rachel Spacek and Tommy Simmons. In Treasure Valley hospitals, a major spike in COVID-19 cases means shortages of nurses, physicians and certified nursing assistants, a trend that is already cutting what kind of health care patients can receive.

Since Oct. 1, the St. Luke’s and Saint Alphonsus health systems, the largest in Idaho, have both seen a spike in COVID-19 patients needing treatment at their facilities. Saint Alphonsus has a daily average of 60 COVID-19 patients in its system, which is double the average it saw during Idaho’s second spike in July. In St. Luke’s Health System, a daily average of 20% of hospitalized patients have COVID-19, a number that has been rising since early October’s lows of 6%.

Brie Sandow, director of St. Luke’s Enterprise Resources Staffing Center of Excellence, said the recent COVID-19 surge and its accompanying infections among caregivers and support staff had knocked more employees out of work than at any other point during the pandemic. St. Luke’s has stringent health policy rules for its employees so they can avoid exposing others to their illness. If an employee has symptoms of illness, they don’t come to work, Sandow said, and the hospital has now gained the testing capacity to run a 24-hour turnaround on COVID-19 tests for its staff members.

“They don’t come back until their symptoms are resolved,” Sandow said.

“I can say today … we have more staff out with COVID than we have had at any other time since March,” Sandow said.

You can read our full story here at (subscription required), or pick up today's Sunday/Monday edition of the Idaho Press; it's on the front page.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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