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Utah hospital ICUs approaching 100% capacity again

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Murray, Utah — According to the Intermountain Medical Center officials, their 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.

“We are just not sure when this is going to slow down,” said Dr. Dixie Harris, a critical care physician with Intermountain Healthcare. “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 have to “be creative with what we can do and how we can handle it.”

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

According to Harris, the vaccine does change things, because she says the vast majority of patients she sees are unvaccinated, and 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.

Her escape is getting outdoors as much as possible, Dr. Harris says. 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.

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