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How the current COVID-19 surge is affecting medical care for children in North Idaho

Healthcare workers in Moscow said they are seeing nearly daily COVID-19 outbreaks in daycare and school settings.

MOSCOW, Idaho — Gritman Medical Center in Moscow and Bonner General Hospital are both currently operating under Contingency Standards of Care. That's one step below the Crisis Standards of Care in place for the rest of Idaho.

Even though the situation may not be quite as severe in Moscow, they too are seeing an increasing number of children sick with COVID-19.

With school back in session - it means kids are once again among their friends in the classroom. For healthcare workers in Moscow, it means the possibility of even more children getting sick with COVID-19.

"We saw very little spread within schools and daycares in the last year. But in the last six weeks, it's almost every day there's a new outbreak in town in a daycare or a school setting," said Dr. Summer Day, Gritman Medical Center's Pediatric Medical Director.

Children returned to the classroom in the most Idaho school districts last year, but now, the Delta variant surge is causing more of them to be sick. The majority of children who contract COVID-19 don't require hospitalization, but the trend is worrying for healthcare workers.

"We have some data that's been helpful coming out of places where they're having hospitals overwhelmed, [like] in the South .... where we started to see the Delta variant sweep across the nation the earliest," Day said. "So, kids under 10 are experiencing about a 1% hospitalization rate. That's actually pretty high. Kids shouldn't get sick and get hospitalized for most viruses. So, 1% of all children who catch COVID requiring hospital stays is the big thing. And then a third of those are requiring the ICU."

Up north at Bonner General Hospital, healthcare workers haven't had to deal with a surge in younger COVID-19 patients. But with school returning, those who care for patients in the hospital are preparing for a possible influx of children sick with COVID-19.

For them, the worry is personal.

"As far as medically, I think that we as as a facility are as prepared as we can be," Dr. Ben Good, a Bonner General Hospital Emergency Department Physician, said. "However, what I find to be especially difficult, I've got a three year old and a six year old, I'm not prepared for them to get sick."

Day said current projections show North Idaho will likely see increasing hospitalizations for another four to six weeks. Luckily for Gritman Medical Center, they haven't had trouble transferring pediatric patients to bigger regional hospitals. She also said there's one to two days a week where bigger hospitals in the region warn they may not have beds available for pediatric transfers.

Bonner General said they also aren't having trouble finding places for pediatric transfers. Both, however, said with difficulties finding local beds for adult transfers locally, they sometimes have to send patients far away from home.

For Bonner General, that means sending people to Portland or Seattle instead of Coeur d'Alene or Spokane. At Gritman Medical Center, it means sending people as far as Reno, Nevada or Sacramento.

With the current surge looking like it will last for week and hospital capacities reaching their limits, healthcare workers are calling on the community to help.

"None of this is new. Wear masks, socially distance when possible. If at all possible, please get vaccinated," Good said.

"I think we know that there is an end in sight. We just have to keep looking toward that. But it would be really, really helpful if everyone would do their part by getting vaccinated," Day said.