'I wish it was the flu': Doctors share what care currently looks like for patients with COVID-19

Posted at 4:12 PM, Jul 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-28 18:01:30-04

As the state continues to examine our current handlings of the coronavirus in Idaho, there's no one better to hear from than Dr. Adam Balinger and Dr. Meghan McInerney.

These two doctors see and treat patients in the ICU with COVID-19 every day.

"I wish it were the flu, I wish it was something that wasn't as severe and life-threatening as it is," said Dr. Adam Balinger, an internal medicine physician at St. Luke's.

Idaho remains in stage 4 of governor little's reopening plan, but Dr. Balinger and Dr. McInerney say that doesn't mean things are under control.

"Idaho is averaging 500 new infections per day which is high, and I want everyone to remember that about six weeks ago there was on average 20 some odd new infections a day," said Dr. Meghan McInerney, pulmonary and critical care physician at Saint Alphonsus. "So, we have increased significantly."

The state looks at criteria including the number of confirmed cases, amount of PPE, and how many ventilators are available to advance stages.

"We're trying to use other measures like high flow nasal cannula to prevent people from going on ventilators, so I no longer feel that using ventilators as a measure of yes we're in a bad stage or no we're not in a bad state of the disease," said McInerney.

Dr. Christine Hahn, the state epidemiologist, says that's not one of the new criteria or data they'll be collecting.

"I don't believe we are collecting info on the use of high flow oxygen from the hospitals to my knowledge, we still are collecting the ventilator data," said Dr. Hahn. "Which ventilators are not as important as they were at the beginning of this, but we still have plenty of folks going on them."

It also explains why there's a gap between the current case numbers and death count. People are typically on a ventilator for weeks, so ultimately that's why the case numbers go up weeks before the death numbers go up.

The physicians both say they have the capacity in ICUs to care for anyone who comes in, but if trends continue, that will change.

"We know that wearing masks and social distancing and washing hands can slow the spread of coronavirus that is very simple," said Dr. McInerney. "It's not a political thing; it's a public health issue."

These two doctors see the coronavirus, and it's side effects every day. They want to remind the public about how dangerous the situation still is.

"The hardest part I'm seeing is the isolation of patients, it is heartbreaking to see especially when it's unclear if they're going to get better or if they're going to die of this disease," said Dr. Balinger. "That part has been, just the volume of the patients that are that sick is unlike anything I've seen."