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Northeast Tri-County Health District asks state for backup as hospital beds fill and COVID-19 cases surge

Dr. Sam Artzis of Northeast Tri County Health District is shown collecting vaccines from North Valley.  (Courtesy Aaron C. Edwards)

The Northeast Tri-County Health District has called the state health department for backup.

With coronavirus cases surging, hospitals nearing capacity and limited staff to support public health efforts, Health Officer Dr. Sam Artzis said he asked the state to send its isolation team to assist the district’s COVID response by checking in on people who test positive and might not require hospitalization immediately.

Artzis also asked the state to send more ICU nurses, due to staffing shortages and hospitals’ inability to recruit traveling nurses in the northeast corner of the state.

In the past, Eastern Washington and other more rural parts of the state have seen COVID surges a few weeks after Western Washington.

Not this time, however. Artzis said this time the whole state seems to be surging at once.

This means patients are waiting in hospitals to get transferred for emergent needs, and more COVID-19 patients are presenting at hospitals. Artzis said Mt. Carmel Hospital in Colville has its highest number of COVID hospitalizations of the pandemic right now.

“Things are going to get worse, and I wish I could say otherwise,” he said.

Artzis said hospitals will likely soon be canceling or rescheduling elective surgeries and procedures, if they aren’t already.

The delta variant, which is much more transmissible than previous variants and the original strain of the virus, is likely a part of the most recent surge in the Inland Northwest.

Case rates have tripled in the Northeast Tri-County region. Newport, Colville and Inchelium each have had more than a dozen cases confirmed in the last two weeks.

The northeast part of the state is also home to some of the least vaccinated counties in Washington.

Stevens County, where most of Northeast Tri-County region’s recent cases have been confirmed, has the lowest vaccination rate in the state at 32.4% of eligible residents getting at least one dose of a vaccine.

“We’re looking at a crisis in the next, I will say six to 12 weeks, that we didn’t see prior,” Artzis said.

The silver lining, Artzis said, is that vaccine uptake does appear to be slightly increasing. He said community members who were previously staunchly against vaccines are now more amenable to getting the shots.

Artzis asked community members to wear masks indoors, watch their distance around those whose vaccination status they don’t know and get vaccinated if they haven’t already.

“If it’s not affecting you in the moment, it’s hard to picture it as a crisis, but I am asking you to trust me on this,” he said.

Here’s a look at local numbersThe Spokane Regional Health District reported 176 new COVID-19 cases and two additional deaths on Friday.

There have been 690 deaths due to COVID-19 in Spokane County residents.

There are 92 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Spokane County hospitals.

The Panhandle Health District confirmed 67 new COVID-19 cases on Friday and no additional deaths.

There are 54 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.