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Intensive care units at Utah hospitals have never been so slammed during the pandemic — with many of them beyond officially full — as the state reported another 2,408 cases of COVID-19 and eight more deaths Saturday.
The percent of all occupied ICU beds statewide is now 99.4%, or 534 of 537 beds filled.
At the 14 biggest hospitals that handle the most coronavirus cases, the rate of ICU beds now occupied is 104.1%, or 480 patients, which is beyond their official capacity of 461 beds.
With COVID-19 on top of regular cases, the ICUs at University of Utah Health hit a point earlier this week where “we couldn’t admit anybody, and that lasted for several hours” before beds opened up as some patients left or were transferred, said Dr. Kencee Graves, assistant chief medical officer there.
That happened even though the university earlier this year — as the coronavirus threat grew — converted some space into a new “surge unit” ICU with 23 beds beyond its normal 111 ICU spots.
On Saturday, Graves said the university was officially at 115% of normal capacity, filling all its usual 111 beds plus many in the surge unit.
It faces many challenges beyond just having beds, Graves said.
“You need to have the physical bed, a safe space for the bed and staff to take care of the person in the bed,” she said.” And so we’ve had to do all those things.”
That includes needing to ask ICU nurses and doctors to work two to four extra shifts a month, “many of them at night,” she said.
More ICU teams have been formed by shifting doctors and nurses from elsewhere and taking residents away from some of their normal rotations. Some surgeries have been delayed, she said, because patients would need an ICU bed.
Hospitals in Utah are also working together, Graves said, so that if an ICU at one is full, patients may be sent to another that has space. Graves said because University Hospital also serves people from around the Intermountain West, it is also carefully screening transfers to ensure they need the extra care available here and that it can be provided.
“We still have a lot of really sick patients in there. So we have a lot of deaths,” Graves said. But she said a good sign is that the rate of positive test results have been starting to decline recently. Fewer cases now means fewer hospitalizations and people in the ICU later.
Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious disease physician with Intermountain Healthcare, also told reporters in a video conference Friday that once COVID-19 patients enter an ICU, “that typically isn’t a short hospitalization.”
He said, “Many times the average stay is between 10 and 11 days. So it takes a while for those patients to either get well enough where then can move out of the ICU — or, unfortunately, pass away.”
The state reported Saturday that 559 people currently are hospitalized with COVID-19. Total hospitalizations from the beginning of the outbreak now number 9,968.
That came as federal officials apologized repeatedly Saturday for smaller-than-promised vaccine deliveries in several states, including Utah.
The head of Operation Warp Speed, Gen. Gustave F. Perna, said some of the problems resulted from the federal government’s miscalculation of how many doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine could be shipped.
“It was my fault,” he said. “It was a planning error, and I am responsible.”
Utah will receive 16,575 doses next week “instead of the 23,400 we were planning for,” health officials tweeted Friday — a reduction of about 30%.
The health department reported on Saturday that 3,648 people have received the vaccine in Utah, but said that number reported may lag by a few days.
In a statement Friday, Intermountain Healthcare — which has been administering the vaccine at several of its hospitals to front-line health workers — said it “is grateful for what we have received and excited to have started vaccinating our caregivers. We will adjust as we have the entire pandemic and administer vaccine as we get it.”
Similarly, officials at University of Utah Health said they were “currently busy vaccinating our teams with the supply we now have in house. We’ll adjust our rollout plan as needed.”
Both Intermountain and University of Utah Health urged Utahns to continue to wear face masks, practice social distancing, wash hands and stay home if sick.
The number of new coronavirus cases was the lowest since the state reported 1,915 on Tuesday. But the Beehive State still has the nation’s eighth highest cases per capita over the past week, according to data compiled by The Washington Post.
The rate in Utah over the past seven days has been 80 infections per 100,000 residents, significantly higher that the national average of 67 per 100,000.
The eight deaths reported on Saturday included:
• Five Salt Lake County residents — two men, one 46-64 and the other 65-84; three women, one 46-64 and two 65-84
• A Box Elder County man, between 65-84.
• A Utah County man, older than 85.
• A Davis County woman, between 45-64.
Utah’s total death toll from the coronavirus stood at 1,148 on Saturday.
The rolling 7-day average for positive tests is 2,454 per day. The rolling 7-day average for percent of positive laboratory tests is 22.1%, which held steady Saturday.