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Doctors warn the ICUs could become overwhelmed by COVID-19 hospitalizations

(Critical Care Doctor Clark Bishop becomes emotional talking about patients with COVID-19 he has treated. Credit: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News, Oct. 1, 2020)

SALT LAKE CITY – Over 200 people in Utah are hospitalized as of Thursday because of COVID-19.  Over 3,800 have been admitted since the outbreak began.  Health workers in Utah say they’re able to handle their current caseload, but if people don’t get better at wearing masks, hospitals can become overwhelmed.

Doctors like Clark Bishop with Intermountain Healthcare’s Utah Valley Hospital have seen how cruel COVID-19 can be.  He has seen the fear in a person’s eyes as someone they care about is transferred to the ICU.  He has been told by countless people that they pray for their sick loved ones every day.

“I wish you could see what it’s like to see somebody who has got COVID and is not sure they’re going to survive, they’re in the ICU, all alone, no visitors, writing goodbye notes to their children,” Bishop says, tearfully.  “It’s not an easy thing to watch.”

Bishop says the disease is especially tough on a group of people they call “long haulers,” who contracted the virus months ago but still have significant symptoms.  He has a friend who doesn’t require a ventilator any more but can barely walk to the bathroom without getting winded.  Bishop says the symptoms can last a long time, and change into new problems.

“Sometimes, just when you think they’re better and their lungs are starting to improve, then their heart stops from myocarditis,” he says.

Governor Gary Herbert says Utah’s ICU beds are only at 65 percent capacity, so there is some wiggle room to treat new patients.  Roughly 14 percent of those ICU beds are being used by COVID-19 patients, which Herbert says is double the amount that was used at the lowest point of the pandemic.  Bishop says they’re able to handle the current number of hospitalizations, but the system can become overwhelmed if numbers continue climbing.  He says Intermountain is already busy enough to force them to shift patients from one care center to another when they’re too crowded.

Bishop says, “We can move somebody from one facility to another facility when somebody has the capacity and somebody else doesn’t have the capacity.”

However, doctors say they’re not just concerned about bed space.  They also need to ensure they have enough caregivers to treat new patients who are infected.  Bishop says he’s deeply saddened at the spike of new cases in Utah County.

“Just wear a mask.  Set that as an expectation.  Say, ‘Hey, around here, we’re going to mask up.’  That’s the way so we can stay open, so we can stay with our friends and so we can go to businesses,” Bishop says.