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Idaho activates National Guard amid COVID-19 surge

Idaho activates National Guard amid COVID-19 surge
Brad Little, governor of Idaho, urged residents Tuesday to get vaccinated against the coronavirus as hospitalizations spike. Photo by Al Drago/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 1 (UPI) -- Idaho Gov. Brad Little has again activated the National Guard as part of a plan to infuse short-staffed medical facilities with workers amid spiking cases in the state that have strained its healthcare system.

The Republican governor announced Tuesday up to 370 additional personnel will be deployed to hospitals, including 150 guardsmen tasked with logistical support and another 200 medical and administrative workers made available through a contract with the U.S. General Services Administration.

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A 20-person Department of Defense medical response team will also be deployed to northern Idaho where vaccination rates are among the lowest in the state, his office said in a statement.

In a recorded announcement, Little said he had toured a nearly full ICU in Boise and all COVID-19 patients were unvaccinated and struggling to breath with most being assisted by machines.

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He said the state has reached a point in the pandemic Idaho has not seen before with only four adult ICU beds available statewide.

"Idaho hospitals are beyond constrained," he said. "Our healthcare system is designed to deal with the everyday realities of life. Our healthcare system is not designed to withstand the prolonged strain caused by an unrestrained global pandemic. It is simply not sustainable."

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He said the majority hospitalized statewide with COVID-19 were unvaccinated, and he urged those who have yet to receive the jab to do so "now to support your fellow Idahoans who need you."

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The move to deploy the hundreds of medical professionals was "a last-ditch effort" to avoid activating Idaho's first-ever crisis standards of care, which Little said they were "dangerously close" to doing so.

The crisis standards of care, he said, would be a historic step "that means Idahoans in need of healthcare could receive a lesser standard of care or may be turned away altogether. In essence, someone would have to decide who can be treated and who cannot."

"This affects all of us, not just patients with COVID-19," he said.

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Idaho has been combating spiking cases from the end of June when it recorded fewer than 100 infections a day. On Tuesday, it reported more than 1,225, according to state data.

The state has been fighting the cases while having the lowest percentage of people nationwide who have received one shot and the fourth lowest percentage of people to be fully vaccinated at 39% and 44%, respectively, according to USA Facts, a non-profit, non-partisan organization.

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The re-activation of the guardsmen comes more than two months after Little announced they'd be wrapping up their service in the state.

On June 24, Little said he would start drawdown of the roughly 300 guardsmen deployed throughout the state.

Because of their work, he said at that time, "Idaho has remained one of the most open states throughout the global pandemic."

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