The University of Utah Hospital’s intensive care unit is at 99% capacity.
Friday, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and caregivers from the hospital gathered together to plead for Utahns to realize the gravity of the situation.
The 99% capacity refers to the staffed ICU beds. Currently, 110 of their 111 beds are full, including a surge ICU.
The University of Utah hospital admitted its first COVID-19 ICU patient on March 13. Since then, it's been seven months of COVID-19 patients in and out, but Friday marked a grim milestone when the hospital had more active coronavirus patients in their ICU than ever before.
"It is a big deal. We have multiple patients in our ICU right now that are under the age of 30,” said Dr. Kencee Graves, the associate chief medical officer for inpatient care.
Graves said getting more beds isn’t the solution, as the hospital system’s healthcare providers are already stretched thin. Graves also said the situation will likely get worse.
She said the time between exposure to COVID-19 and severe illness takes a few days, then any deaths from the virus usually happen around four weeks later.
"I work really hard, I take care of sick patients. I'm used to being stressed," Graves said. "I'm really stressed about what a month from now will look like."
She said while Utah has seen low mortality rates, that could change.
We have not had overwhelmed hospitals. If we wait until our hospitals are overwhelmed and we wait until our mortality rate is high, then we are way too late."
Graves said she knows Utahns are sick of hearing about the coronavirus, sick of not seeing their friends and family — but now is when sacrifices must be made.
If we continue to have almost 2,000 cases a day, people will die. They will."
The packed ICUs affects non-COVID patients as well. The hospital has had to cancel surgeries to make room, some for people facing life-threatening issues.
Graves said she doesn't want to get to the point where they don't have room for someone with heart trouble or someone who was in a car accident.
So many people want to help and support healthcare providers, but what they need most is simple.
I would rather have our community respond to us asking them to mask up, then to call me a hero and to bring us food. We need them to take care of us, that's what we need."
The hospital staff said they will never turn someone away from the emergency room, but if things continue as they are, they will have to divert patients to other area hospitals, which are close to capacity themselves.
The doctors and nurses said the patients in their packed ICUs are afraid and lonely, and they don't want anyone else's family to join them.
"We physically distance now, so that when we get back together later, no one is missing,” Graves said.
The hospital said they will keep stretching their staff to meet the needs of patients, but that impacts the quality of care they receive — and that goes for all patients, not just those there because of COVID-19.