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Magic Valley COVID-19 hospitalizations hit record highs
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Magic Valley COVID-19 hospitalizations hit record highs

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Perrine wears protective mask

A medical mask covers the face of the statue of I.B. Perrine on April 10 outside the Twin Falls Visitor Center in Twin Falls.

TWIN FALLS — St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center had 26 hospitalized COVID-19 patients Monday, the most the hospital has had at any point during the pandemic.

“We’re pretty concerned,” said Dr. Joshua Kern, vice president of medical affairs for St. Luke’s Magic Valley facilities. “We’re kind of raising the flag that things are not going well in the Magic Valley area.”

A man in his mid-20s died of COVID-19 in Twin Falls County this week, marking the first death of a person under 30 in all of Idaho.

There have been more than 20 people hospitalized each of the last three days at the Magic Valley’s largest hospital. The Twin Falls hospital hasn’t had three consecutive days with 20 bed-ridden COVID-19 patients since April. Back then, Blaine County led the nation in COVID-19 cases per capita and those who needed to stay in the hospital were sent to Twin Falls. Now, most of the patients are from Twin Falls and surrounding counties that have seen big spikes in cases.

The Twin Falls hospital only had one day with as many as 10 hospitalized patients COVID-19 patients during all of August.

The young man who died this week had an underlying condition that made him high-risk for a severe case of COVID-19, the South Central Public Health District said.

But the case is also a warning that the disease is deadly and can afflict any age.

“This is a terrible reminder that even our young people are not immune to complications from this disease,” health district epidemiologist Tanis Maxwell said in a statement. “Many of our young people will bounce back, but some will be hit hard by this disease. These are the people, the vulnerable of all ages, that we are trying to protect when we encourage everyone to take daily precautions.”

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The number of people contracting COVID-19 in Twin Falls County has almost quadrupled in the last month, Kern said. In the second half of August, there were about 75 people who caught COVID-19 in Twin Falls County each week. Two weeks ago there were 202.

Hospitalizations tend to lag behind new infections, so the Twin Falls hospital could get even busier in the next few weeks.

Having a surge in patients stresses the hospital in a few different ways, Kern said. Right now the problem isn’t capacity — there are still plenty of beds available — it’s mainly that staff are stretched thin.

“We’re already feeling the pinch to our staffing even now,” Kern said.

Many medical professionals have said they’re worried about flu and pneumonia season. As it gets colder and people spend more time inside, it’s likely that COVID-19 cases will increase. If COVID-19 hospitalizations stay high, and flu and pneumonia hospitalizations pile on top of those, the odds of hospitals being overwhelmed will increase.

“I really worry if people are fatigued and bored of COVID now, just wait two more months when we’re in the middle of winter and everyone’s cooped up inside,” Kern said. “It’s hard to not feel a little sense of dread.”

Public health officials continue to remind people they should stay 6 feet away from people they don’t live with, wear a mask in public places, practice excellent hand hygiene, and isolate immediately if they begin to show symptoms of an illness.

“Some of these conditions that place people in our community at high risk aren’t obvious to the people around them. Conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or lung problems can be invisible to the public and are more common than you might imagine,” Maxwell said. “That’s why taking steps to protect everyone around us from any illness we might be carrying is such an important step in slowing the spread of this disease and saving lives.”

Kern said masks and social distancing haven’t become any less important as the pandemic continues. The best way to keep the economy open and avoid another shutdown is to wear masks, he said. People need to keep doing what they can to slow the spread.

“The problem is we can’t give up, because we will just continue to run into crisis-levels of patients if it doesn’t slow down,” Kern said.

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