SALT LAKE CITY — Intermountain Healthcare and University of Utah Health have postponed all "non-urgent elective procedures" to free up resources amid the novel coronavirus outbreak, officials announced Monday.
As of Monday, 29 Utah residents have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. An additional 10 visitors in the state have also tested positive.
The decision comes as medical facilities expect a surge in COVID-19 patients in the coming weeks.
Some surgeries have already been postponed in both health networks and impacted patients can expect to hear from health care providers about scheduling details.
The measure will help free up hospital beds and health care providers, preserve medical supplies, and contribute to social distancing, Dr. Mark Briesacher, senior vice president and chief physician executive with Intermountain Healthcare, explained at a Monday news conference.
“This is an important step that is critical to slowing the spread of the virus,” said Dr. Sam Finlayson, professor and chair of the University of Utah Health Department of Surgery.
The surgeries will likely be postponed for at least a few weeks, Finlayson said.
“I don’t think this is going to pass quickly. This is going to be a matter of weeks and possibly months,” he said, adding that health care officials will continue to measure the situation as it develops.
The U.S. is currently about 10-11 days behind the spread of the coronavirus in Italy, Finlayson pointed out, saying he doesn’t think this decision is premature.
In fact, he said he felt it would be irresponsible to not take these measures at this point.
“This is a proactive step,” Briesacher said.
Determining which surgeries will be postponed will be on a case-by-case basis, Intermountain Healthcare Spokesman Jess Gomez told KSL.com.
“Some elective surgeries may be urgent while other elective surgeries are not urgent and can be postponed,” Gomez wrote in an email. “We’ll work with caregivers to determine which cases can proceed at this time and which can be safely deferred to the time when the anticipated COVID-19 surge has passed.”
Briesacher encouraged patients to use virtual visits at Intermountain Healthcare hospitals as much as possible but patients who need an in-person visit will still be able to do so.
“Of course, Intermountain facilities will continue to care for everyone who has urgent medical needs and are in emergencies, doing so as we have always done,” Briesacher said.
Briesacher noted that the decision is in line with the best medical evidence on the novel coronavirus and in line with recommendations from the U.S. Surgeon General, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Surgeons.
“While this change may create challenging situations for some people, it is a necessary and appropriate step, given the anticipated growth in the number of Utahns who may need hospitalization from COVID-19,” Briesacher added.
In addition to postponing non-urgent procedures, U of U Health is also rescheduling and postponing all non-urgent appointments, according to Finlayson.
“We believe this is the right thing to do for our community,” Finlayson said. “We understand that this is going to be challenging for some of our patients and we really appreciate their partnership and their patience as we work through this difficult time.”