Twin Falls City Council receives another alarming COVID-19 update

Cases continue to rise, the hospital is still dealing with capacity and staffing issues
Published: Nov. 17, 2020 at 4:53 AM MST
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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) -Last week the Twins Falls City Council had a heated discussion with residents over a proposed face mask mandate that some hoped would be passed and help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

The City Council voted to put the proposal on hold, in hopes that local residents would change their behavior on their own to stop the spread of the virus.

On Monday, Dr. Joshua Kern, the vice president of medical affairs for St. Luke’s Magic Valley, gave an update on how the area is doing in the fight against COVID-19, and unfortunately, the news wasn’t good.

Kern said the hospital has “routinely” been above 50 positive COVID hospitalizations, and it has really not had any point recently where it has been below 50. He said that trend continued into Monday.

The news continued to get worse as he said the hospital has consistently been off and on diversion, based on staffing issues and the volume of patients. Kern said on Monday, the hospital was on ICU diversion and was unable to take certain ICU patients. It had to decline patients from surrounding facilities or send patients up to Boise if they needed to be admitted to an ICU level care facility.

Kern said the in last two weeks in Twin Falls County, St. Luke’s Magic Valley has seen somewhere between 650 to 700 patients diagnosed with COVID. He said back in August when the community had the virus well under control, the hospital was seeing 75 patients per week.

He also said the St. Luke’s Health System — across all of the St. Luke’s hospitals — set a new record for the total number of positive COVID patients in the hospital with 130. Kern said that is a major concern because “If and when we (Magic Valley) are no longer able to take patients” they might not be able to transfer their patients to Boise, which has been a “relief valve” for the Magic Valley.

“Other hospitals that we typically partner with continue to be pretty full," Kern said. “Obviously, the news out in Salt Lake City is very concerning, as they have been very stretched.”

He finished his update with the City Council by stating he is very concerned about the trend he is seeing in the Magic Valley.

“I do not see a significant decrease in COVID cases being diagnosed in Twin Falls and the surrounding communities over the last two weeks,” Kern said. “Our hospital levels continue to be at a very concerning level that is very difficult for us to think about maintaining for an extended period of time."

Councilwoman Nikki Boyd asked Kern about the severity of the COVID-19 cases currently in the hospital, such as if the patients were displaying symptoms. Kern said of the roughly 50 patients hospitalized, about four of them were in the ICU, and the rest were in the COVID ward, which is at 100 percent capacity or in another part of the hospital.

Boyd also brought up the fact that even though the hospital staff is wearing face masks, a lot of them are calling out sick with COVID, which is creating issues for the hospital and patient care. She asked Kern if St. Luke’s is in the process of hiring more nurses. Kern said currently the ratio of COVID patients to nurses is 4 to 1, and due to the surge of the virus nationwide it is nearly impossible to get nurses.

Councilman Chris Reid had the most concerned voice on Monday night by stating something needs to be done to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and add some relief to the hospital system.

“Whatever side of the masks you fall on, human behavior needs to change. We can not continue to go at the rate we are going,” Reid said. “There will be serious consequences for that in our community and in our valley."

Reid said 97% of the people will get the virus with the sniffles, sore throat, cough and recover at home, but 3% will need hospitalization to recover.

“Those are the numbers from South Central (Public Health District). I am not making those numbers up,” Reid said. “And looking at Utah’s numbers, they are at almost 5% hospitalization. If we are at that rate, 9,806 people will need to be hospitalized to stay on the 99% survival rate side.”

Before the City Council ended its meeting with Kern, Reid asked him if St. Luke’s has furloughed any nurses or staff since COVID hit the Gem State. It is an accusation that has been raised on social media and at last week’s City Council meeting by Twin Falls residents. Some residents feel that has more to do with St. Luke’s staffing and capacity issues than people not wearing face masks in public.

Kern stated that St. Luke’s as an organization did not lay off anybody, but they did have some employees who were sent to work from home. He also said St Luke’s had some money that was set aside for other initiatives, but it was an organizational decision to take care of its employees first. Kern said they also received some CARES Act funds.

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