Utah ICUs near capacity as healthcare workers continue battle against COVID-19

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Colorado’s governor signed an executive order allowing overwhelmed hospitals to turn away new patients. This comes as COVID-19 cases surge in the state and are climbing in almost every western state – including Utah.

As coronavirus cases continue to add to the number of general intensive care unit (ICU) hospitalizations, officials at Intermountain Healthcare and University of Utah Health said they won’t turn anyone away who shows up in need of help.

But in some situations, Dr. Vinik, the U’s chief medical operations officer, said people are taken to a different hospital.

“There have been sometimes over the last few weeks where we have gone on EMS divert, meaning, ambulances know ahead of time we don’t have the capacity so that they don’t bring us patients,” he said. “We keep that time very minimal, but it certainly has happened.”

Caring for people around the state and in the region, Dr. Vinik said with an ICU at 90% capacity, it has limited their ability to care for people coming from afar.

“A couple weeks ago, a patient had to go to Las Vegas because there were just not enough ICU beds in Utah,” he said.

While many ICU patients are sick with the coronavirus, that’s not the case for every person.

“We have people being treated for heart attacks, strokes, trauma, major surgeries, cancer treatment,” said Jess Gomez, an Intermountain Healthcare spokesperson.

While bed space can limit the number of patients a hospital can take, Gomez said staffing shortages also challenge healthcare systems across the nation.

“People have been working so hard for so long now, over 20 months during the pandemic,” he said. “And these frontline caregivers, it’s very taxing providing the level of care to these high volumes of patients we have.”

Gomez said COVID-19 hospitalizations remain high and Dr. Vinik said projections suggest hospitalizations have hit a plateau for the next few weeks.

Data from the Utah Department of Health reports Thursday, coronavirus patients make up 94% of the state’s ICU beds.

And new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows Utah ranks seventh in the nation for the highest percentage of new COVID-19 cases.

“There seems to be almost a little bit of a beltway here in the Intermountain West,” Gomez said. “Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming. And so, we’re seeing very high levels of transmission and subsequently, we’re seeing hospitalizations continue to remain high.”

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