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BOISE — Officials from Idaho's two largest health care systems painted a bleak picture for the COVID-19 outlook in the Treasure Valley during a press conference Tuesday morning with Boise Mayor Lauren McLean.

"We are seeing numbers we've never imagined we'd see," said McLean, who promised a targeted response to the most recent COVID-19 surge in Boise.

St. Luke's Chief Medical Officer Jim Souza said the number of COVID-19 patients has been steadily rising over the past six weeks. Additionally, he said, 197 clinical staff are out sick, including 133 with COVID-19.

"We are prepared to convert our hospitals into COVID facilities," Souza said. He pleaded with the community to take the precautions necessary to curb the spread of the disease, including social distancing, hand washing, limiting gatherings and wearing masks.

"We've been giving this message since April and are wondering if anyone is listening," he said.

As of Monday, roughly 20% of St. Luke's and Saint Al's patient populations had COVID-19. That included 128 COVID-19 patients at St. Luke's and 72 across Saint Alphonsus facilities. 

Odette Bolano, president and CEO of the Saint Alphonsus Health System, echoed much of what Souza said and reiterated that hospitals across the state are struggling to handle the surge of COVID-19 patients.

"Hospitals are a lagging measure. When everyone is interested in what is happening in hospitals, we've lost the train," Bolano said.

Bolano said the health care systems needed people and local leadership to come together to follow measures that will help curb the spread until the new COVID-19 vaccines are available to the general public. The time frame on that is still fluid as vaccines work their way through clinical trials.

"Is it really too much to save lives, to ask you to have compassion for our health care workers and double down for the next 60 days?" Bolano asked.

Dr. Steven Nemerson, Saint Al's chief clinical officer, said the health care system expects its number of COVID-19 patients to double by Christmas and triple by mid-January. 

"It is really out of control," Nemerson said.

More than 3,200 people in Idaho have been hospitalized with COVID-19 since the pandemic began, including 621 in intensive care units. Nearly one-fifth of the hospitalizations have been in November. 

The city of Boise wants to partner with and support businesses in enforcing mask mandates and staying open. McLean did not provide specifics during Tuesday's press conference about the city's next steps, but more details are expected later this week.