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Intermountain Healthcare postponing surgeries due to Utah’s COVID-19 surge

Utah reports 2,189 new cases and 21 additional deaths Friday

Medical staff treat a patient in a COVID-19 intensive care unit at Intermountain Healthcare’s Utah Valley Hospital in Provo.
Medical staff treat a patient in a COVID-19 intensive care unit at Intermountain Healthcare’s Utah Valley Hospital on Aug. 25, 2021, in Provo. Intermountain Healthcare is postponing surgeries at 13 Utah hospitals — including for medical conditions that are urgent but not life-threatening — because the region’s largest health care provider is overwhelmed with largely unvaccinated COVID-19 patients.
Intermountain Healthcare

Intermountain Healthcare is postponing surgeries at 13 Utah hospitals — including for medical conditions that are urgent but not life-threatening — because the region’s largest health care provider is overwhelmed with largely unvaccinated COVID-19 patients.

Friday’s announcement came shortly before the Utah Health Department reported 2,189 new cases of COVID-19 and 21 additional deaths from the virus. This is the second day in a row cases have exceeded the 2,000 mark last reached in mid-January.

“Today’s a day I wish had never come,” Dr. Marc Harrison, Intermountain Healthcare president and CEO, told reporters during a virtual news conference. Harrison urged Utahns to get vaccinated against the deadly virus, warning, “the cavalry is not coming. We are the cavalry.”

Although he said “drastic action” is needed to preserve the public health, Harrison said Intermountain Healthcare won’t make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for employees and suggested President Joe Biden’s sweeping new order for vaccine mandates for as many as 100 million Americans won’t solve the crisis.

“Clearly, we don’t believe mandates are the answer to every problem,” he said.

Harrison said Intermountain Healthcare has “chosen not to impose a vaccine mandate. We are north of 80% for a vaccination rate and getting better every day. We believe in people’s ability to make decisions for themselves and they are generally making what I would consider to be very, very good decisions and more every day.”

Just over half of all Utahns are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, meaning it’s been two weeks or more since their final dose. Last week, University of Utah Health announced a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for staff that allows for medical or religious exemptions. About 75% are already vaccinated, spokeswoman Kathy Wilets said.

Some 87% of Intermountain Healthcare patients hospitalized with the virus are unvaccinated, Harrison said.

They are about 20 years younger and tend to have fewer medical issues than the virus patients who did get the shots, he said, making this a pandemic of the unvaccinated and the medically frail. Harrison, who has an incurable blood cancer, counts himself in that group.

Currently, he said, Intermountain Healthcare has about 350 COVID-19 patients, a number that’s “rising day by day” and filling about half of the beds in intensive care units that are operating at 100% capacity. That leaves no place for those with urgent but not life-threatening health care needs, such as a painful pinched nerve.

“This feels very sad to me. I have immense empathy for all segments of our population, including those who have chosen not to get vaccinated,” Harrison said, adding he can only assume they made that decision not recognizing the impact on others of “a largely unvaccinated population that is clogging our health system.”

He said he is not impatient with Utahns who have decided not to get vaccinated against COVID-19, but with the situation, and his “hope is that as people understand that they will choose, as Utahns have for so long, to be part of the solution and to help their neighbors.”

The 13 hospitals where surgeries are being postponed for what’s expected to be several weeks starting Monday do not include those in rural communities, The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital known as TOSH in Murray, or Primary Children’s Hospital. They are:

  • Logan Regional
  • McKay-Dee (Ogden)
  • Layton
  • LDS Hospital (Salt Lake)
  • Intermountain Medical Center (Murray)
  • Riverton
  • Alta View (Sandy)
  • Park City
  • American Fork
  • Utah Valley (Provo)
  • Spanish Fork
  • Cedar City
  • St. George

The 2,189 new COVID-19 cases reported Friday include 544 cases among school-age children — 210 who are 5-10 years old; 155 who are 11-13 years old and 179 who are 14-17. Vaccines are not yet available to children under 12 years old.

To date, 3,323,167 coronavirus vaccine doses have been administered in Utah, a daily increase of 7,445 doses.

The rolling seven-day average for positive tests is 1,511 per day, and 14,445 people were tested for the virus and 22,946 tests conducted since Thursday. That puts the rolling seven-day average for percent positivity of tests at 9.2% when all results are included, and 12.2% when multiple tests by an individual are excluded.

Currently, 529 people are hospitalized in Utah with COVID-19. The state’s death toll has reached 2,724 with the additional 21 deaths reported Friday. They are:

  • A Utah County man, between 45 and 64, not hospitalized.
  • A Washington County man, older than 85, long-term care facility resident.
  • A Kane County woman, older than 85, not hospitalized.
  • A Salt Lake County woman, between 65 and 84, not hospitalized.
  • A Utah County woman, between 65 and 84, not hospitalized.
  • A Salt Lake County man, between 15 and 24, not hospitalized.
  • A Juab County man, older than 85, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Davis County woman, older than 85, long-term care facility resident.
  • A Utah County woman, between 45 and 64, not hospitalized.
  • A Sanpete County man, between 25 and 44, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Utah County man, between 45 and 64, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Washington County man, older than 85, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Salt Lake County man, between 65 and 84, not hospitalized.
  • A Davis County woman, older than 85, long-term care facility resident.
  • A Weber County woman, between 45 and 64, not hospitalized.
  • A Wasatch County man, between 45 and 64, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Washington County man, between 45 and 64, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Salt Lake County woman, between 65 and 84, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Salt Lake County man, between 25 and 44, not hospitalized.
  • A Sanpete County man, older than 85, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Salt Lake County woman, between 45 and 64, hospitalized at time of death.