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COVID-19 Crisis Will Likely Worsen Across The Mountain West, Infectious Disease Experts Warn

Intermountain Healthcare
Inside the ICU at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah

COVID-19 is surging across the Mountain West, and the Infectious Diseases Society of America held a briefing Wednesday on the many challenges facing the region as the pandemic surge continues.

Experts warned that the situation will likely get worse before it gets better. While factors differ among states, they point to a few common themes across the West.

“Many of these states have not had mask mandates until very recently. Some don’t even have them today, and have very limited restrictions on mass gatherings,” said Dr. Andrew Pavia with the University of Utah School of Medicine and a fellow with the IDSA.

Pavia said the reopening of college campuses has also contributed to the rise of cases, and the way people act moving forward will determine how long the spike will continue.

“A lot is going to depend, as we look farther out, on what happens with Thanksgiving," Pavia said. "If Thanksgiving does the same things to us that Memorial Day did and Labor Day, and people gather, we could see another acceleration going into Christmas.”

Flattening the curve is critical, he said, as the current spike in cases has already overloaded the region’s healthcare system.

“Under normal circumstances, if you’re admitted to an ICU, you have either a nurse devoted just to you, or a nurse taking care of two patients. Right now, in many ICUs around the region, it’s one nurse to four patients or five patients,” he said.

That’s led regional hospital centers in Utah to prioritize their own residents for available ICU beds before taking patients from out of state.

Pavia warned that a vaccine will likely not be readily available in time to help fight the virus this winter, and he expects the pandemic to last at least through the summer. He said the best way to fight the virus is to continue to socially distance and wear a mask, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday also helps the person wearing it.

You can watch the IDSA briefing on COVID-19 in rural America here.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Noah Glick is a former content director and host at KUNR Public Radio.
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