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Utah hospital ICUs approaching, surpassing 100% capacity again

Posted at 10:10 PM, Aug 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-29 00:10:23-04

MURRAY, Utah — Intermountain Medical Center's intensive care unit is now at above 100 percent capacity, and other facilities around the state are nearing that grim milestone as well.

The latest COVID-19 surge is getting dangerously close to overwhelming a weakened hospital system, which was already hit hard after a previous surge.

“We are just not sure when this is going to slow down,” said Dr. Dixie Harris, a critical care physician with Intermountain Healthcare.

Harris stepped away for a few minutes to talk with FOX 13 Saturday while working in the ICU at Utah Valley Hospital.

“We are completely full, and we are just working very fast and very efficiently to take care of patients and make room for the next batch of patients,” she said. “There is no time to sit down. There’s no time to really relax and talk to coworkers. It's just running the whole day.”

With so many patients, so much to do, and so little time and space, Harris says doctors and nurses are having to “be creative with what we can do and how we can handle it."

READ: 8 new deaths, 1,286 additional COVID cases in Utah reported Friday

Utah has experienced these types of numbers before during the coronavirus pandemic, but this time around, there are a few differences.

First, Harris says the vaccine does change things. She says the vast majority of patients she sees are unvaccinated.

Second, the average age of patients is becoming younger.

“We have had many of our younger patients actually pass away from COVID, which is devastating," Harris said.

Lastly, the system itself has lost people due to fatigue or other reasons — leaving fewer nurses and doctors to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We don’t have more doctors to take care of patients now than we did before,” Harris said. “We need highly-trained people, so you can’t just say, 'OK, you just completed nursing school, you just completed medical school. Come and take care of these complex patients.' It just doesn’t work like that.”

All of this adds up to tired doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who again cannot see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Dr. Harris says her escape is getting outdoors as much as possible.

She also says that when she is talking with anyone, she wants to steer the conversation away from COVID, musing that she has found it helps to instead talk about her dream camper van she hopes to buy when someone brings up the pandemic.

“I get to talk about my camper a lot,” she added with a chuckle.

We asked Dr. Harris specifically if there was one message she would like to give to the public.

Her answer was simple:

"Do everything to keep yourself healthy so that you do not have to come to the hospital” — including avoiding accidents and injuries, washing hands, wearing a mask, getting vaccinated. “Just keep yourself out of the hospital.”