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‘When They See How Bad It Gets, They Will be Stunned’
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Tuesday, August 31, 2021
 

STORY BY KAREN BOSSICK

PHOTO BY ANDREA NELSON

Want to know what impact the surge of COVID patients has on those who need emergency care for a heart attack or stroke? Look no further than North Idaho where one hospital is so full that it’s converted an office building into a COVID hospital and is looking at opening a field hospital.

There are more COVID-19 patients in Idaho ICUs right now than at any point during the pandemic with a one-day high of 139 eclipsing the Dec. 18, 2020, peak of 122.

One woman who was bitten by a hobo spider had to have her foot amputated after doctors couldn’t attend to her promptly. And on Monday the Weiser School District announced that a middle school teacher had died, likely due to COVID.

It’s stories like these that leave Dr. David Pate and Dr. Tommy Ahlquist shaking their heads.

“I don’t think most people understand what’s coming at us. And, when they see how bad it gets, they will be stunned,” said Pate, former CEO and president of St. Luke’s Health System and an original member of the Governor’s coronavirus task force. “They’ll say, ‘My kids are sick. I lost a family member to COVID…’ ”

“I continue to hear horrible misinformation. It’s just been a barrage of misinformation,” added Ahlquist, founder of Crush the Curve Idaho COVID testing. “No one listened for whatever reason and here we are…I don’t know how we can sustain ourselves through this current stage…I have two friends--one died a week ago in his 50s. One is in his 30s and intubated. No one’s making this up.”

Pate and Ahlquist recently answered questions about the pandemic and the COVID vaccine on a Zoom call hosted by The Idaho Statesman.

Pate noted the sharp increase in young people hospitalized in the Treasure Valley due to the Delta variant.

“Last year we could tell who was high risk…those who were obese, had high blood pressure, heart disease, were older… Now, we’re looking at those in their 20s, 30s, 40s…and we have no idea why they’re this sick because they seem to be very healthy. So, if you say, ‘I’m healthy, I’m young, I’m not going to be harmed by this’--that’s so 2020.”

Last year it was rare to see extremely ill children hospitalized with COVID, Pate added. But that’s changed.

“I don’t think school boards understand things have changed,” he said. “Kids are getting infected, and the age most efficient at transmitting the virus is from 0 to 3. People have to understand: This is not the coronavirus we were dealing with last year.”

Ahlquist agreed: “We’re in for more illness than people are aware of. People are tired of mandates, but they will see children sick and ICUs filling up. The hypocrisy from leadership during the pandemic is super disappointing. Watching people talk out of both sides of their mouth is super disappointing, but I think that will change soon because it’s going to have to. Their bells are going to be rung and they’re going to have to step into the ring. We need leadership now worse than ever.

“All the things people want and are fighting for—forgoing masks and getting back to normal—will come through vaccination and following other public health protocols,” he added.

The surge in transmission accelerated the timeline for booster shots, Pate said: “When you have a lot of transmission going on, you’re going to develop variants.”

Pate said that the FDA and Centers for Disease Control accelerated the time between the original two doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to two and three weeks because the United States was experiencing so many deaths as the vaccines were being rolled out. The current vaccines are still very effective at keeping people out of the hospital. And the current recommendation regarding booster shots doesn’t mean people will have to get a booster shot every eight months from here on out.

“Right now, it’s important to wear a mask when you’re around people you don’t live with because you can be infected in a shorter amount of time than you could last year with the previous viruses,” said Pate, who wears K95 or N95 masks in high-risk situations. “And wear it properly. It doesn’t help anyone if it’s below your nose or above your chin. And make sure there are no gaps on side.”

Ahlquist admitted that he’s getting cynical and tired of being patient with people who are not getting vaccinated for whatever reason.

“There are smart people out there buying into misinformation, and most of the people who are not vaccinated are pretty dug in,” he said. “It’s critical for us health care providers to tell the truth, and I’ve started telling it a little stronger…What if this was polio or smallpox—all these things we fought for years? The truth is: Vaccines protect yourselves, your kids, public health…and shame on you if you don’t see that.”

Pate noted that some claim that their faith will keep them healthy.

“I’m a man of faith and I know Tommy is and I tell people: Look at the rest of your life. If you really want to rely on faith, would you leave your home unlocked, let your children play in traffic trusting God to save them before they’re hit by car? I also try to point out inconsistencies for school boards: Forget about COVID--what if a child shows up with chickenpox? You’d get them out ASAP because chickenpox is so contagious. COVID is about as contagious as chickenpox and causes more severe disease so why are you acting differently?”

CAN YOU GET A FLU SHOT AND VACCINE AT THE SAME TIME?

Yes. Last year, health officials told people not to get a vaccine in conjunction with another vaccine not because it would affect the effectiveness of the COVID vaccine but because they wanted to assess the adverse effects, if any, of the COVID vaccine. “So, it’s okay to get a flu and COVID shot together this year,” said Dr. David Pate.

ON MOO JUICE

Both Dr. Tommy Ahlquist and Dave Pate were warning against the use of Invermectin to fight COVID before its use became splashed across the headlines.

But that hasn’t stopped the rush in Idaho to purchase the anti-parasitic medicine given to horse and livestock to get rid of worms. There have been multiple reports of people being hospitalized with allergic reactions, severe diarrhea and other problems after using it.

“It’s baffling to me that people take treatments that have no authorization from FDA but won’t take the  vaccine, which has been approved,” said Pate.

APPROACHING CRISIS CARE STANDARDS

On Thursday some Idaho hospitals narrowly avoided asking the state to enact crisis standards of care where scarce health resources are allotted to the patients most likely to survive, according to Associated Press writer Rebecca Boone.

But, she noted, 21 percent of the students at West Ada School District—Idaho’s largest school district officially opted out of the district’s mask requirement even though COVID-related hospital admissions have been doubling every two weeks since July 24. On Thursday there were about 170 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in St. Luke’s hospitals alone.

“One of our partners … today hit the point where they had a patient intubated down in their emergency department, needing to keep that patient alive as they were trying to find a bed for that patient,” St. Luke’s chief medical officer Dr. Frank Johnson told Boone. “They were thinking about who they could take off a ventilator so they could put that patient on a ventilator.”

In the Wood River Valley St. Luke’s is increasing its readiness to activate its surge plans, along with other St. Luke’s hospitals. The hospital is preparing to assist other hospitals in the region, according to Chief Operating Officer/CNO Carmen Jacobsen. At the same time, it remains ready to assist those who need to access its services.

St. Luke's Magic Valley, meanwhile, is out of ICU beds and Twin Falls, Jerome an Gooding counties are ranked in the top five counties in the state for COVID cases.

ANTIBODY TREATMENT CENTERS COMING

Idaho is opening three antibody treatment centers to reduce the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and patients in ICUs. They’ll be located in the Treasure Valley, North Idaho and East Idaho.

The state recorded 1,312 new cases of COVID with four new deaths on Monday. The vaccination rate remains at 48 percent statewide and 90 percent in Blaine County.

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