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Rural hospitals brace for onslaught of COVID-19 patients

CBS News logo CBS News 11/20/2020 Carter Evans
a person standing next to a window: A medical staff member is seen inside a hospital. © CBS News A medical staff member is seen inside a hospital.

Rupert, Idaho — Coronavirus hospitalizations nationwide are up more than 100% in the last month. Rural hospitals, in particular, are at a tipping point. Nearly 20% of Americans rely on them.

CBS News got a first-hand look Thursday inside a small hospital in Rupert, Idaho, that's bracing to take in more COVID-19 patients. Minidoka Memorial Hospital has just 17 beds and a staff that is overwhelmed. The hospital doesn't have an intensive care unit, but there are three beds now for COVID-19 patients.

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Large cities initially bore the brunt of the pandemic and while COVID-19 cases are increasing again, nowhere are they rising faster than rural areas. In Idaho, 1 out of every 4 coronavirus tests come back positive. Still, there are many who refuse to wear masks.

"Everything you do is based on the mask and the disease and it's wrong," said Gary Lusk, a resident of Twin Falls.

When asked what she thinks when people are seen not protecting themselves, one nurse told CBS News, "We know we probably will see them someday." That same nurse said she believes all their beds will be occupied. "I do see it will fill up fast."

"It's relentless. It's a day after day. It really takes a toll," said Alison Johnson, director of critical care at Johnson City Medical Center in Johnson City, Tennessee.

A hospital in Topeka, Kansas, is so overrun with COVID-19 patients that some are being kept in hallways and waiting rooms until an ICU bed becomes available.

The Mayo Clinic is now reporting more than 900 staff members have been infected with the coronavirus just in the past two weeks. 

In Reno, Nevada, beds are in a hospital parking garage. By Thursday night, as many as 40 COVID-19 patients will be housed there.

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