Thurston County seeing record COVID-19 cases, deaths

THURSTON COUNTY, Wash. — The fight against COVID is also a race against the clock for many hospitals in Washington state, including Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia.

“The patient load just continues to grow,” Dr. Kevin Caserta, the Chief Medical Officer at Providence SW Washington, said.

St. Peter Hospital recently reached a tragic milestone: 10 patients died of COVID in one day, which is the highest single-day death toll at Providence since the pandemic began.

“Just to put this in context, we’ve had 150 deaths total in Thurston County residents since the pandemic began,” Dr. Dimyana Abdelmalek, the public heath officer for Thurston County Public Health and Social Services, said.

The hospital, which is in Thurston County, is currently “in the middle of the fifth wave,” according to Dr. Abdelmalek.

“Our cases and transmission rates reached an all-time high at the end of August with peaking at 519.9 cases per 100,000 over 14 days. We are starting to plateau and we’re watching cautiously, so we’re currently at 461.1 cases per 100,000 over the past 14 days,” she said.

This “plateau” exceeds the county’s highest case rate from last year’s winter surge, which “was in the low 300′s in terms of cases per 100,000 per 14 days,” Dr. Abdelmalek said.

Thurston County saw a winter surge in 2020, where case and transmission rates peaked… until the summer of 2021, which saw record-breaking COVID cases and transmission.

Dr. Caserta works with St. Peter Hospital (Thurston County) and Providence Centralia Hospital (Lewis County), where unvaccinated patients continue to check in.

“We’ve been averaging between 75-to-80 patients a day in our hospital because of COVID-19,” he said. “Throughout our two hospitals, generally about 85% of those admitted right now are not vaccinated from COVID-19. And if you’re sick enough to require what we call ‘intensive care treatment,’ which includes things like being on a ventilator, it’s well less than 10% who are fully vaccinated… When we look at the total deaths that we’ve had since the vaccine has been available, well over 95% of them have not been vaccinated for COVID-19.”

Dr. Caserta and Dr. Abdelmalek both encouraged safety measures like wearing masks, proper hygiene and social distancing.

Both also encouraged more people to get vaccinated. About 47% of Thurston County residents are fully vaccinated, according to the state department of health dashboard.

Dr. Caserta also spoke on lingering vaccine hesitancy in parts of the South Sound, pointing to misinformation online about vaccines.

“I think it’s paralyzed some people who would otherwise get vaccinated. The truth is we’ve lost 1 in 500 people to COVID-19 and we can do something about it,” he said. “Right now, I don’t know anybody in the hospital because of the vaccine.”