Health officials brace for post-Thanksgiving surge, hospitals postpone some surgeries

Health officials and Gov. Jay Inslee are preparing for the worst: a massive surge in infections after Thanksgiving.

They pleaded again on Tuesday for people not to gather socially outside of their households.

“From my observation, in December at some point, unless something changes, we very well could be in a situation with catastrophic loss of medical care in the state of Washington,” Inslee said.

Though initial doses of the vaccine could arrive in Washington next month, it will be a small fraction of the population getting it.

“This is not going to be generally available in mid-December,” Inslee said. “It will first be available to medical professionals that have to do the high-risk procedures, it will be available to folks who have serious morbidities that put them at higher risk.”

Dr. Nathaniel Schlicher, an ER doctor at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma and President of the Washington State Medical Association, said staffing is getting tough and beds are filling up.

“Our hospitals are at record capacity,” he said. “My health system is now above where it was in April.”

Dr. Arooj Simmonds, Swedish’s Executive Medical Director of Surgical Services, told KIRO 7 that their hospital system, like some other systems in the area including Providence, UW Medicine and MultiCare, are postponing some nonemergency surgeries to ensure they have enough ICU beds.

“November, December are our busiest surgical months,” Simmonds said. “Because everyone’s either met their deductible or they have some time off around the holidays to recover from surgery. If you’re a patient scheduled to have surgery, and I don’t care what that surgery is, you’ve planned your life around it … my heart goes out to them.”

“How many COVID-19 patients are you treating right now?” reporter Linzi Sheldon asked.

“So we had about 12 patients come in overnight,” she said, “and our total numbers for our hospital are around 80 patients. And that’s over four of our five hospitals that have COVID patients. That’s a high number for us.”

KIRO 7 reached out to hospitals in the Puget Sound area with COVID-19 patients. UW Medicine reported having 70 COVID patients hospitalized, while MultiCare had 100 and CHI Franciscan had 111. Overlake Medical Center in Bellevue reported 12 and EvergreenHealth said it had 18.

Inslee said the field hospitals that came to western Washington in the spring could return if we can’t stop the spread of COVID-19. But the first step if hospitals get too full is adding capacity with more beds and changing some areas into intensive care units.

In both scenarios, he said, staffing would be a major challenge.