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Let's be safe out there

Let's be safe out there

Hospitals nationwide face nursing shortage
and increasing cases of COVID-19 delta variant

Amid a virulent COVID-19 variant, a nationwide nursing shortage, and limited access to bed availability in regional centers for higher levels of care, healthcare officials ask the community to take precautions and do their best to stay healthy.

Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County and its Incident Command team have taken measures to keep patients, staff and the community safe and healthy, said MHSC Incident Commander Kim White, Emergency Services Director.

“We are restricting visitors and tightening visitation policies,” White said. “If this perfect storm of delta variant, worker shortages and hospital capacity continues, we will have to go back to a policy of no visitors.”

Beginning immediately, MHSC’s Emergency Room will not allow visitors unless the patient is younger than 18, cannot understand or make decisions for themselves, or require assistance under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Yesterday was the worst day ever for COVID in the ER,” said Dr. Phillip Najm, Emergency Medical Director with University of Utah Health. “It was definitely worse than the peak we had in November.

“I’m constantly telling people to wear masks and keep them on in order to keep everyone safe,” Najm said. “We are at a crisis point.”


Only people 18 or older are allowed to visit patient rooms, unless the individual is the parent of a pediatric patient.

Here is a breakdown of visitation rules by department:

  • At the entrance: Door monitors will continue to ask visitors to complete a questionnaire before entering the hospital to visit or for hospital services. For more on this, go to the “Coronavirus Update” page at
  • ICU: COVID-19 positive patients are not allowed visitors. Non-COVID-19 patients may have one visitor per day.
  • Emergency Room: As a result of the significant influx of COVID-19 patients needing emergency care, no visitors are allowed in the emergency room unless the patient is 18 or younger, cannot understand or make decisions for themselves, or require assistance under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Medical/Surgical & Obstetrics: Patients are allowed two visitors each per day. Visitors cannot swap out during a single day; they must be the same two visitors. All visitors MUST wear a mask at all times and MUST remain in the patient’s room during their visit. This policy will continue as long as hospital leaders believe it is safe to do so.

Masks are required for anyone entering an MHSC facility, including its clinics and various departments. When possible, maintain a 6-foot distance.

“Please know, we are doing our best to apply restrictions as needed to maintain health and safety,” said MHSC Public Information Officer Deb Sutton. “And please, be kind to our staff. They are doing everything they can to keep patients and co-workers healthy.

“If you have a friend or loved one who is an inpatient at the hospital, consider other ways of communicating – Skype, Facetime, email or text,” Sutton said. “We thank you all so much for your kindness and understanding.”

COVID-19 Delta

“The delta variant of COVID-19 replicates faster and has a higher viral load than the initial COVID-19 virus,” said Dr. Melinda Poyer, MHSC Chief Medical Officer. “Nationwide, regionally and locally, this impacts patient bed capacity regardless of the type of medical condition.

“When regional tertiary medical facilities are functioning at full capacity already, all causes of medical conditions present substantial challenges for admission and transport,” Poyer said.

If you are not fully vaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend all people age 2 or older wear a mask in indoor public places. In areas with high numbers of COVID-19 cases, consider wearing a mask in crowded outdoor settings and for activities with close contact with others who are not fully vaccinated.

The CDC describes the delta variant as more transmissible than the viruses that cause the common cold, influenza, smallpox, MERS, SARS, and Ebola. It is as contagious as the chickenpox.

Unvaccinated people are helping to fuel the COVID-19 variants, said Dr. Cielette Karn, MHSC Director of Pathology. A majority of the new coronavirus infections seen nationwide are the delta variant.

“We don’t want what’s happening in some parts of the nation to happen here,” Karn said. “It doesn’t have to happen here if we take this thing seriously.”

Dr. Edward Kimball, who works in critical care at University of Utah Health, told regional healthcare affiliates during a recent Zoom meeting that the seriousness of this pandemic becomes clear as the data continues to pour in.

“The risk levels for unvaccinated people is high,” Kimball said. “Having an increasing number of people test positive in the middle of a demographic of many people who are unvaccinated is akin to playing with matches in a very dry forest.”

For those who are vaccinated, they are not impervious to COVID-19, but are at a much lower risk of being hospitalized or dying, Kimball said.

“Because of the substantial decrease in masking and mask mandates, we are now going to see other viruses come back,” he said. “The flu, which was nearly eliminated by masking last year, will be coming back, as will RSV for pediatrics. We’re painting a picture that is ominous, but we have a far better solution at our hands now than we did at the start of the pandemic – of course, it’s vaccinations.”

Vaccines work, Kimball said.

“The naysayers are wrong. The truth is, the COVID-19 vaccines work, and they work very well.”

The rate of breakthrough COVID-19 cases among vaccinated individuals is about where it was expected to be. Kimball said the rate of breakthroughs at U of U Health isn’t surprising considering the efficacy rate of the vaccines.

Here is a breakdown of lab tests of symptomatic patients at U of U Health as of June 7:

  • Fully vaccinated with Pfizer-BioNTech: 6.5% breakthrough rate. Recommended for anyone 12 or older, it has an efficacy rate of about 90%.
  • Fully vaccinated with Moderna: 5.1% breakthrough rate. Recommended for adults 18 and older, it also has an efficacy of about 90%.
  • Fully vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson: 14.1% breakthrough rate. Recommended for adults 18 and older, the vaccine has an efficacy of just over 70%.

More patients/fewer workers

As the nation faces a nursing shortage, the number of hospitalized COVID-19 cases continues to rise. When too many of the now-employed healthcare workers get sick, it has the potential to leave too few healthcare workers to care for a community.

“This virus and its variants are overwhelming our hospitals,” Kimball said. “In Utah, our daily hospital admissions are going up.

“We have more people hospitalized in Utah than we did last year at this time,” he said. “The delta variant appears to be making people sicker, and many of those patients are younger.”

MHSC’s ER physicians receive a daily update from U of U Health on its potential transfer status, including the number of beds available in Utah ICUs.

Transfers are being limited to many hospitals in Utah and Idaho, Najm said. Those larger hospitals are getting requests from hospitals as far away as Florida.

Currently, Sweetwater Memorial and U of U Health have an appropriate level of healthcare professionals caring for patients.

“Could we use more nurses? Yes,” White said. “As always, we are prepared to make adjustments. The Incident Command team continues to work through potential scenarios in order to be proactive.”

Take precautions 

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve and create increasing health issues, MHSC has taken steps to offer the community a number of services to help them stay healthy.

“As we’ve seen for well over a year now, the pandemic situation changes daily,” White, said. “Providing the highest level of care for our community remains our No. 1 goal. Accidents, illnesses and medical needs do not take a vacation. Please take extra precautions.”

COVID-19 Vaccines: A Drive-thru COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic is available from 3-6 p.m. every Wednesday until further notice. The drive-thru is fat MHSC’s main entrance, under the awning at 1200 College Drive. The vaccines are free. No appointment necessary.

COVID-19 Swabbing: The Drive-thru Swabbing Station remains open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday at MHSC’s main entrance. Free COVID-19 vaccines also are available during swabbing station hours.

Sweetwater Walk-In Clinic: The clinic at 3000 College Drive is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. No appointment is necessary.

Primary Care: All of the Specialty Clinics – 1200 College Drive and at 3000 College Drive – remain open during their regular hours. Call the Family Medicine Clinic at 307-212-7708. Call the Pediatric Clinic of Sweetwater Memorial at 307-212-7717. In addition, many of the clinics offer tele-health services.