COVID hospitalizations are decreasing in Washington, but North Idaho hospitals are treating record numbers of COVID patients.
There were 1,215 COVID patients being treated in Washington hospitals for the virus as of Sunday, and while this figure is a large decrease from earlier in the delta variant-fueled fifth wave, hospitals are now at similar levels to last winter’s COVID surge.
“While we’re seeing the general number of COVID patients decline and we’re finding ourselves with some elbow room, we have not returned to a normal state of operation at this time and hospitals are still extremely full,” Mark Taylor, operations director at the Washington Medical Coordination Center, told reporters Monday.
The Washington Medical Coordination Center is the statewide stopgap for hospitals that cannot refer patients to neighboring hospitals for higher levels of care. At the peak of the fifth wave, Taylor said they received about 140 calls a week asking for patient transfers. Now the center gets about 70 calls a week, predominantly from rural hospitals.
Taylor said only 40 to 45% of the calls coming into the center are for COVID patients needing care, and patients with other traumas, like heart attacks or strokes, in smaller hospitals are still needing to be transferred sometimes across the state for care.
Hospital officials and providers expect hospital capacity to remain high, even as COVID cases continue to decline, in part due to delayed or deferred care over the past few months.
Dr. Michal Myint, population health executive at MultiCare, said providers are concerned about what winter time could look like with the return of respiratory virus season as hospitals try to catch up on procedures and surgeries that have been put off during the surge of COVID patients.
“We remain vigilant and prepare for what could be a very long respiratory season,” Myint told reporters Monday.
Some hospital officials are optimistic that the vaccine mandate will not add more staffing shortages to an already tired and strained workforce later this month. The Washington State Hospital Association is surveying its members to gauge the impact of the mandate on staffing, and that data should be available next week.
Locally, Providence reported an uptick in vaccinated staff in recent weeks, and both MultiCare and Swedish officials reported feeling cautiously optimistic about the mandate’s impact on their staffing.
The hospital association has already surveyed rural hospitals to gauge how the mandate will impact their operations, and Taya Briley, executive vice president at the association, said the mandate could result in a lower cap on the number of patients a rural hospital can take care of.
“We’re waiting to see final numbers, but so far, the impact we’re hearing is more a limitation on access to acute care services than total service line shutdowns,” Briley said.
While hospitalizations for COVID-19 are on the decline or leveling out in Washington, North Idaho is still surging.
Kootenai Health recorded a record level of patients with the virus on Monday. There were 136 COVID-19 inpatients, including 40 in the critical care unit and five pediatric patients.
Here’s a look at local numbers
The Spokane Regional Health District reported 235 new COVID-19 cases on Monday and five additional deaths. Over the weekend, the district reported 409 new cases.
There have been 852 deaths due to COVID-19 in Spokane County residents.
There are 185 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Spokane hospitals.
The Panhandle Health District reported 297 new COVID-19 cases on Monday and over the weekend as well as 11 additional deaths. The district has a backlog of 1,818 cases.
There have been 491 deaths due to COVID-19 in Panhandle residents.
There are 156 Panhandle residents hospitalized currently with the virus.
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