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ICUs are ‘at or beyond functional capacity’ with new COVID cases

(Intermountain Medical Center in Murray. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News, file 2017)

SALT LAKE CITY – While overall hospitalizations haven’t reached the highs we saw in months past, doctors report ICUs are just as full as they were earlier this year. Additionally, health care officials in Utah say we’ve hit a dangerous threshold in COVID-19 cases.  

Nurses with Intermountain Healthcare reported new COVID-19 patients are rotating into their emergency rooms on a steady basis. ICU Nurse Cierra England said every time they discharge a patient, there seem to be two or three more waiting in the ER. This requires a lot of manpower at a time when many hospitals are short-staffed.

England said, “We’re having to staff between 18, 19, sometimes upwards into 20 nurses every single shift,” and that’s per unit.

She says many ICU patients regret not getting the vaccine, however, others are still hesitant to get one even after they become sick. Critical Care Technician Kaydi Marshall said workers are getting more frustrated and fatigued than they were before.

“As health care workers, we went through our big surge last year and cases started to go down. It felt like we were going to start getting a break from it, and now, we’re seeing more and more cases, again,” Marshall said.

Currently, there are 367 people being hospitalized for COVID-19, and 163 of them are in intensive care.  However, since hospitals are short-staffed, they’re not able to add extra COVID units like they did last year.

Intermountain Infectious Disease Doctor Todd Vento said, “We are already at or beyond functional capacity in several of our facilities.”

Plus, there’s another problem. Vento said the uptick in cases caused by the Delta variant has created a nationwide shortage in medications like Tocilizumab, which is used to treat things like inflammation in severe cases.  However, he said there are backup treatments they can use.

Vento said, “We’ve not run out of [some] medicines we use to treat severe illness. The monoclonal antibodies, some of them, have lost their effectiveness because the Delta variant can evade some of our monoclonal antibodies.”

Vento believes it’s not a choice between wearing masks and getting the vaccine, adding that people should be doing both. He said even vaccinated people should continue to wear masks indoors to limit the spread of the Delta variant.