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‘Completely preventable’ surge has hospitals on the edge

Aug. 30, 2021 Updated Tue., Aug. 31, 2021 at 9:08 a.m.

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.  (HOGP)
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. (HOGP)

The surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide did not slow over the weekend.

There are 1,440 people hospitalized with the virus in Washington hospitals as of Sunday, and 182 of those people are on ventilators.

“This remains incredibly serious,” Cassie Sauer, CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association, told reporters Monday.

Hospital administrators said capacity is incredibly tight.  They described how close some facilities are to not providing necessary care.

At Confluence Health in Wenatchee, there was a day last week when every BiPap machine, a device that opens a patient’s lungs with air pressure, was in use.

“We were at a point where if we had one more patient, we wouldn’t be able to handle them,” said Dr. Mark Johnson, an infectious disease specialist at Confluence.

COVID-19 patients are typically put on high-flow oxygen, then a BiPap machine and a ventilator in that order, Johnson said, noting they try to keep patients off ventilators as long as possible.

The overwhelming majority of COVID-19 patients at Confluence as well as every hospital statewide are not vaccinated against the virus.

“The vast majority of them are expressing supreme remorse when they find out how severe this disease is,” Johnson said.

Hospital administrators described staffing challenges, exhausted staff and low morale.

“I have not ever in my career been this concerned about our providers,” Dr. Dave Carlson, chief physician officer of MultiCare hospitals in Washington, said, noting the possibility of not being able to take care of patients should the surge overwhelm the state’s health care system.

He said 96% to 98% of COVID-19 patients in MultiCare hospitals, including those in Spokane, are unvaccinated.

“The hospital crisis was completely preventable,” he said, adding that if vaccination rates were significantly higher in communities, the number of COVID patients in hospitals would be much lower and manageable.

Vaccination rates are increasing, albeit not at a pace to curb hospitalizations. In Spokane County, a slight majority, 50.2% of the total population. have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 59% of the eligible population has received at least one dose.

Health officials are concerned about upcoming mass events, such as state and county fairs, and hospital officials said these kinds of events are a bad idea, given the condition of the state’s health care system. They encouraged people to avoid mass gatherings, get vaccinated and wear face coverings in public.

“This is a very human-driven disease,” Sauer said. “The more people wear their masks, stay home and get vaccinated – those are things that will help mute the surge for sure.”

A look at local numbers

The Spokane Regional Health District reported 291 new cases on Monday and 522 cases over the weekend. The district also reported five additional deaths.

There have been 737 deaths due to COVID-19 in Spokane County.

Hospitalizations continue to surge locally, and there are now 219 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Spokane County .

The Panhandle Health District confirmed 316 new COVID-19 cases on Monday and over the weekend and no additional deaths.

There are 102 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.

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