Sun Valley, Idaho: ‘No One Should Come Here’
Blaine County, Idaho, which includes the resort town of Sun Valley, has one of the highest known rates of COVID-19 cases in the West.
‘To hear year-round Sun Valley, Idaho, residents like Justin Malloy tell it, town right now is as crowded as you’d expect to see it in the peak Fourth of July or Christmas seasons. The small airport is packed with private jets. And then there’s the parking lot at the Atkinsons’ Supermarket, one of only two in town where bread and essential cleaning items are particularly hard to come by.
“We’ve been seeing a lot of Washington plates, a lot of California plates, their cars just full of all of their stuff that they’ve brought from out of state,” Malloy says.
This has fueled outrage on social media, and on unusually crowded hiking and ski trails, where locals are wondering aloud whether rich people are fleeing cities to seek refuge in rural Idaho, and unknowingly making the public health crisis here even worse.
“It seems likely that people were fleeing other places and not recognizing that they were then bringing the disease with them from Seattle, or other areas where they might live part time,” says Dr. Josh Kern, vice president of medical affairs for St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center in Ketchum.
While resort towns like this can typically house a lot of tourists or second- and third-home owners, that doesn’t extend to St. Luke’s, which has only 25 beds. The hospital has had dozens of COVID-related admissions and officials warn there are likely many more cases in the community than what’s been diagnosed.
That’s leading to some impassioned pleas to take the recent, strict self-isolation orders seriously.
“No one should come here,” says Dr. Brent Russell, a local emergency room physician.
Russell should know. He has COVID-19. He’s been very sick, so can’t work at this critical time.
“We have a really high percent of COVID spreading among the population here,” Russell says. “If you come here, that is putting your life at risk and it’s putting other lives at risk.”
The hospital is part of a regional health care system, St. Luke’s, so for now, support has been coming from hospitals in Twin Falls and Boise where there aren’t as many known cases. Yet.
Blaine County COVID rates rival NYC, Wuhan
News analysis: Comparisons are difficult, but the valley has one of the nation’s highest concentration of coronavirus cases
Idaho Mountain Express/Mark Dee
The raw numbers may pale compared to major cities, but Blaine County had the nation’s highest concentration of lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in the nation yesterday, according to data compiled by the New York Times.
And, its calculation is an underestimate.
So, what do you do with that information? “Take this seriously,” according to a group of eight St. Luke’s Wood River emergency physicians. Self-isolate and abide by the shelter-in-place order designed to stem the spread of the disease.
“We want you to know, given the community spread, that you should not wait for the test or test result,” Drs. Terry O’Connor, Malie Kopplin, Deb Robertson, Jim Torres, Brock Bemis, Keith Sivertson, Terry Ahern and Brent Russell wrote in a letter to the Idaho Mountain Express published Wednesday. “There are measures you can take now to protect yourself, your family, friends, neighbors and way of life. Self-isolate. Don’t leave the Wood River Valley to recreate elsewhere. It’s well known that we have a very high rate of infection; 5B plates are not going to be welcomed outside of Blaine County. Moab and Twin Falls don’t need our virus. Stay home. Save lives.”
Blaine County Deals With Coronavirus Hot Spot As Other Rural Idaho Communities Prepare For the Worst
Boise State Public Radio/Rachel Cohen
St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center suspended normal operations last week. Coronavirus screening sites, a walk-in-clinic and the emergency department remain open.
If a patient needed to be hospitalized for symptoms of coronavirus in the Wood River Valley today, they’d most likely be transported — by ambulance or helicopter — to a hospital in Twin Falls an hour and a half south, or one in Boise two and a half hours west.
Blaine County — home to Sun Valley, with a population of about 22,000 — is the epicenter of Idaho’s coronavirus outbreak.
“So currently any patient who would be that sick would not be maintained up here. We would be transferring them either down to Magic Valley or Boise,” said Dr. Frank Batcha, a family physician at the St. Luke’s clinic in nearby Hailey.
Patients seeking care for routine check-ups, cancer screenings or caesarean sections are also being directed to other hospitals.
“Are we concerned about not having enough resources? Absolutely. And that’s why we’re trying to conserve what we have right now, particularly our manpower,” said Batcha, who, these days, is typically clad head to toe in personal protective gear as he screens patients for COVID-19 in the parking lot of the Ketchum hospital.
St. Luke’s Wood River is part of the statewide St. Luke’s Health System with seven hospitals, which means staff and supplies can, and are, being dedicated to the Ketchum hospital.
“If we were an isolated, rural hospital, we would be crippled right now, because we have so many people who are out with the illness,” Russell told Boise State Public Radio’s George Prentice.
But strains extend beyond the hospital. Bill McLaughlin, the Ketchum Fire Chief who also oversees EMS services for the north half of the valley, said around a quarter of his paramedics are out because they have coronavirus symptoms or have potentially been exposed in the community.
“We only have a couple paramedics on each day, and if, for some reason, one of them gets sick, then that entire shift would be knocked out for 14 days,” McLaughlin said.
Many volunteers who used to help out are staying home, too.