COVID-19-related hospitalizations hit a new high in Washington state on Thursday.
“We have, unfortunately, sobering news to share with you,” said Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA) CEO Cassie Sauer. “COVID hospitalizations are at the highest they have ever been in Washington state.”
On Thursday, the state reported a record-breaking 1,240 COVID-19-related hospitalizations.
“That number has been doubling every two weeks,” Sauer continued.
The last peak was seen during the winter 2020 surge when roughly 1,100 residents were hospitalized with COVID-19.
According to WSHA, the spike in COVID-19-related hospitalizations is now exacerbating an already strained hospital system.
“Hospitals are at extremely high occupancy at this point in time,” said Mark Taylor, the director of operations with the Washington Medical Coordination Center (WMCC) at Harborview Medical Center.
Taylor said, based on WMCC call volumes, the center could see a large increase in non-COVID-19-related hospitalizations in recent months.
Taylor said those hospitalizations unrelated to COVID-19 were largely comprised of patients who could be discharged but have nowhere to go. It’s also due to a general seasonal increase as people partake in high-risk activities and seek care that was delayed because of the pandemic.
WMCC also noted an uptick in recent months, coinciding with the fifth delta-fueled wave of COVID-19-related hospitalizations.
Seattle Children’s Hospital also experiences the strain, but only 1% to 3% of its current hospitalizations are COVID-19-related.
“Our hospital consensus is currently 100% of staffable beds, and our urgent care clinics and emergency department are also near 100% occupancy,” said Dr. Danielle Zerr, the division chief of pediatric infectious disease and medical director of infection prevention with Seattle Children’s.
According to Zerr, more of their patients, who have required hospitalization due to COVID-19, are unvaccinated teenagers.
“The patients this time around appear to be sicker than during previous waves,” Zerr said. “They’re requiring a higher level of care and support, such as intubation and mechanical ventilation.”
Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett is also nearing capacity at its large, 600-bed facility.
“The vast majority of patients that are coming in now are unvaccinated,” said Providence Regional Medical Center Infectious Disease Section Chief Dr. George Diaz.
“Not only are the numbers high, but the types of patients that are coming into the hospital are different than before, early in the pandemic,” Diaz continued. “We were seeing older patients, frail patients, coming into ICUs. Now, we’re seeing a much larger number of patients who are ages 30 to 39 that are becoming seriously ill, admitted into the ICU, which is a fairly dramatic change in this pandemic for us.”
Diaz said 5% to 10% of Providence’s hospitalized COVID-19 patients were vaccinated, many of whom had previous medical conditions, which put them at risk.
In response to the influx, WSHA stated statewide elective medical procedures were being postponed.
“We say the word ‘elective,’ and people hear ‘face-lift,’ and that is not correct. Elective could be replacement of your heart valve. It could be a cancerous tumor,” said Sauer. “It’s really serious care that’s getting postponed right now.”
“At this point, I have heard of nobody who is continuing to do planned procedures that are requiring an inpatient bed,” said Taylor. “We’re pushing the ball down the road with the idea that we hope to have some capacity to accommodate those patients soon, but it is a little bit of a gamble, and that has been occurring for weeks.”
WSHA is also working with the state to find alternative, long-term solutions for patients who no longer need care but have nowhere else to go.
Still, WSHA stated the only way to truly lessen the load on hospitals is to reduce future COVID-19-related hospitalizations.
“You getting your vaccine protects others. There are breakthrough infections. That is true of COVID, but in most cases, except for if you have some sort of immune-compromising disease, you’re going to be protected from hospitalizations or death by the vaccine, so it’s really the unvaccinated folks who are driving this epidemic,” said Sauer.
“We don’t know what variants are coming next, but every host gives a chance for the virus to mutate, and it’s very, very worrisome about the future,” Sauer said.
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