COVID-19 Q&A: Hospital capacity, getting tested, and Thanksgiving

Q: I keep hearing that hospital officials in Idaho are very concerned about capacity, and they might have to implement crisis standards of care. What does that mean? If I needed life-saving care, would a hospital really turn me away?

A: We have been emphasizing this since the start of the pandemic: Hospitals, including those in Idaho, have limited capacity. When they no longer have enough staff or beds or equipment to treat patients, they will have to divert patients to other hospitals, turn people away if other hospitals are not accepting diverted patients, and possibly set up field hospitals. Healthcare will have to be rationed. Idaho has a Crisis Standards of Care Plan that outlines what this looks like and what would trigger it to be implemented.

However, we don’t want to get to that point!  We can PREVENT it by following the recommended guidelines and wearing a mask when we’re around others who don’t live with us, keeping 6 feet between ourselves and others we don’t live with, washing or sanitizing our hands often, and staying home if we feel sick.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published a scientific brief that says that mask-wearing protects others, but it also protects the person wearing it. That’s new, and worth remembering. It’s a very small sacrifice to wear a mask, and when most of us do, it lowers the risk of infection for all of us. That also helps our hospitals and healthcare workers. Fewer people get sick and require hospital-level care, which can be provided when it’s needed.

Q: Do we know when it will become easier for people to get tested for COVID-19? If I wanted to get tested and am not showing any symptoms, where can I go?

A: We’ve been working to increase testing capacity in Idaho, but asymptomatic testing is currently limited, especially in certain areas of the state. There are some healthcare providers doing testing for asymptomatic individuals.

If you are not showing symptoms but think you should be tested, call your healthcare provider or go to https://get-tested-covid19.org/ for a testing center near you and discuss your risk and testing availability. While you wait for a test or if you are unable to get tested, please follow the recommended guidance and wear a mask, keep 6 feet between you and others, stay home if you’re feeling sick, and wash and sanitize your hands often, but especially before eating or touching your face.  

If you are planning to be near vulnerable people such as babies or those over the age of 65, consider quarantining yourself for two weeks before you see them.

Q: We are planning a Thanksgiving celebration in our home with several family members who don’t live with us. Should we cancel it?

A: The highest risk for spreading COVID-19 is just the scenario you describe: People gathering in a home with other people with whom they don’t live. Under Idaho’s new Stage 2 order, public and private gatherings larger than 10 people are prohibited unless it is with people currently in your household. The CDC has some guidelines for how to lower the risk, including hosting a virtual gathering, limiting the number of in-person guests, and having guests bring their own food, drink, and utensils. Wearing a mask and physical distancing are also included in the guidelines. The lowest risk is to celebrate the holiday only with people who currently live with you.

To slow the spread of COVID-19 in Idaho, please remember to:

  • Wear face coverings  
  • Keep at least six feet between you and others
  • Stay home if you are sick
  • Wash your hands often
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Disinfect surfaces and objects regularly

Resources

Stay up-to-date with the latest and most accurate information on COVID-19 at the following websites:

DHW also posts lots of information, including daily updates on the numbers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Elke Shaw-Tulloch is the administrator for the Division of Public Health.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is dedicated to strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans. Learn more at healthandwelfare.idaho.gov.

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