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COVID-19 hospitalizations increase in Spokane County and state

This electron microscope image made available and color-enhanced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Integrated Research Facility in Fort Detrick, Md., shows Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, orange, isolated from a patient.  (HOGP)
By Arielle Dreher and Laurel Demkovich The Spokesman-Review

OLYMPIA – Washington’s hospitals are again seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases as a fourth wave hits the state, Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday.

Hospitalizations are increasing statewide, especially among younger people who up until last week were not eligible for vaccines.

“We are headed in the wrong direction,” Inslee said during a news conference. “It is simply too dangerous to persist.”

A higher percentage of people between the ages of 20 and 59 are becoming hospitalized with the virus. In Spokane, hospitalizations and deaths are getting younger and younger, said Dr. Dan Getz, chief medical officer at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and Holy Family Hospital.

“We’ve seen a steady, worrisome trend,” he told reporters.

Spokane County is mirroring statewide trends, with an increase in COVID hospitalizations in the past two weeks.

As of Thursday, there are 64 patients being treated for the virus in Spokane hospitals.

The last time more than 60 people were hospitalized for the virus in Spokane County was in mid-February.

Dr. Dave Carlson, chief physician officer at MultiCare in Pierce County, said the spike is not happening as quickly as previous spikes have . Younger people tend to have less intensive care unit stays and recover more quickly, Carlson said.

For now, it’s manageable, Getz said, but health care workers just finished dealing with a surge of cases, hospitalizations and deaths that started in November. He said the next few weeks are “critical” as more people get vaccine doses.

“We don’t want another surge,” he said.

Inslee said the biggest factor in increasing cases is variants, which he said are “biting the younger population big time.”

Nearly every variant of concern has been found in Washington, including the U.K. and Brazilian variants. Both appear to be easier to transmit and better at resisting therapeutics used to treat people with COVID-19.

The Brazilian, U.K. and California variants have all been confirmed in Spokane County.

People 49 years old and younger in the state are predominantly responsible for spreading the variants, the latest data from the Department of Health shows.

Vaccinations are helping, said Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy secretary for COVID-19 response at the Department of Health.

She said the increase in cases is not as steep as the one the state saw in November, the largest wave to date. She added there are increases in hospitalizations, but not among those who are vaccinated, namely older people.

“Vaccines are making a difference in the course of this pandemic,” Fehrenbach said.

But it will still take time for enough vaccinations to beat a fourth wave. In the meantime, she said everyone needs to continue wearing a mask and social distancing.

Although vaccines are open to people 16 years and older, too many still don’t have confidence in them, Inslee said.

At MultiCare, Carlson said only about 50 to 60% of staff are vaccinated, despite health care workers being eligible for months.

“Being on the fence is too dangerous of a position right now,” Inslee said.

Here’s a look at local numbersThe Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 87 new COVID-19 cases and three additional deaths.

There have been 601 deaths due to COVID-19 in Spokane County residents since the pandemic began.

There are 64 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Spokane.

The Panhandle Health District confirmed 25 new cases on Thursday and no additional deaths.

There are 33 Panhandle residents hospitalized with the virus.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.