Whitman County’s top public health official is worried about shortages of intensive care unit beds as the COVID-19 pandemic intensifies.

When Whitman County hospitals can’t handle patients, it’s getting increasingly hard to find beds in the Spokane area, forcing patients to be sent to western Washington and out of state, said Chris Skidmore, director of Whitman County Public Health.

Skidmore is hoping compliance with face mask mandates and more people being vaccinated against COVID-19 will reduce the pressure on hospitals so this area doesn’t face a situation where it’s entirely out of intensive care unit beds.

“I’m really concerned right now we’re still on the front end of this fight and cases are not really showing any sign of slowing down anytime soon,” he said.

Skidmore’s concerns come at a time when many are closely tracking COVID-19 cases, especially those requiring hospitalizations.

This week, The Associated Press reported that Idaho’s public health administrator Elke Shaw-Tulloch has warned that hospitals in her state could have to implement crisis standards of care in as soon as two weeks because of the infection rate of the highly contagious delta variant.

Crisis standards are intended to help hospitals direct scarce resources to the patients most likely to survive and have not been previously activated.

This month, 14 people died from COVID-19 in north central Idaho and southeastern Washington after a stretch from July 8-28 without any fatalities.

All of north central Idaho and southeastern Washington are ranked as having high community transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

High is the most severe of four categories in the CDC ranking system, which also describes jurisdictions as having substantial, moderate and low community transmission rates.

Representatives from the Palouse’s two largest hospitals said they are monitoring the rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations and its effect on hospital capacity as virus cases continue to spike.

“Whitman County Public Health and hospitals throughout Washington state are reporting an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations, and that’s our situation as well,” Pullman Regional Hospital spokeswoman Alison Weigley wrote in an email to the Daily News.

Weigly wrote that she could not provide the specific number of hospitalizations, but said the hospital’s bed capacity is normal and its staffing levels are strong as of Thursday afternoon. Hospital care teams are meeting twice a day to monitor the hospital’s status.

The hospital is also concerned about regional hospital capacity.

“Something we are keeping a watchful eye on is our ability to transfer to other facilities and regional bed capacity,” she wrote. “It’s now fluctuating from limited to extremely limited.”

Whitman County Public Health reported no new hospitalizations on Thursday. There have been 140 hospitalizations since the pandemic began.

“We encourage everyone to get their vaccine and, if they need care, get care,” Weigly wrote. “The hospital continues to be a safe place.”

Gritman Medical Center in Moscow said in a Thursday news release that four patients were admitted to the hospital in the past week who tested positive for COVID-19.

The hospital said it is working to preserve its capacity to care for all patients, including those who do not need COVID-19-related care.

“Hospital capacity is a complex combination of many factors including available staffing, beds, medicines, supplies and technology such as ventilators,” the news release said. “We have been closely monitoring these and several other critical data points since February 2020 to adjust services and operations as needed.”

Gritman promised to be transparent about the COVID-19 situation “while balancing the need to respect and preserve patient privacy.”

There were a combined 38 confirmed or probable cases reported in Whitman and Latah counties on Thursday.

Twenty-three of those cases were among Latah County residents. The newest patients include four people younger than 18, seven people between ages 18-29, four people in their 30s, one person in their 40s, two in their 50s, three in their 60s, one in their 80s and one in their 90s.

No new deaths were reported for Latah County on Thursday, and the total death toll remains at 16. There have been 3,269 total confirmed cases and 194 probable cases in the county since the start of the pandemic.

There were 15 new confirmed cases reported Thursday in Whitman County. The death toll since the start of the pandemic remains at 54. There have been 4,642 total COVID-19 cases.

People should wear masks even if they have been vaccinated because they can still be infected with COVID-19 and transmit it to others, Skidmore said.

Those who haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19 should get the shot, he said.Whitman County has seen a drastic increase in hospitalizations among unvaccinated community members, he said.

In the first half of August, 86 percent of patients hospitalized in Whitman County were unvaccinated, he said.

Kuipers can be reached at akuipers@dnews.com. Williams can be reached at ewilliams@lmtribune.com.

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