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Washington COVID-19 hospitalizations down slightly as deaths increase

A nurse enters patient information into a computer as she monitors a patient’s condition in the MultiCare Deaconess Hospital in September. As the pandemic rages on, there is fear that nurses, nursing assistants and other medical workers will leave the field for work that is less stressful.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Washington declined this week. Health officials said several factors are at play: More people are wearing masks and taking the disease seriously, and more people are dying.

The number of people in the hospital with coronavirus fell to about 1,500 in Washington. A week ago is was 1,700.

“We’re making progress in that sense, but sadly and expectantly our death rates are up a bit,” Dr. Steve Mitchell, the director of the Washington Medical Coordination Center, told reporters on Monday.

In Spokane County, there were more than 240 patients in Spokane hospitals with the virus a week ago, and Monday there were 221 patients.

In September, 69 Spokane County residents died of COVID compared to 19 in July.

In June and July combined, 32 Panhandle residents died from the virus. In August and September, there have been 100 deaths.

Just because there are fewer COVID patients doesn’t mean hospital capacity is back to normal; the state coordination center received 77 requests to find beds for patients last week alone.

Mitchell said two COVID patients in their 50s from east of the Cascades had to be transported to the Puget Sound region for care due to tight hospital capacity in Eastern Washington.

Surgeries and procedures are still on hold in Spokane hospitals due to the large number of virus patients, said Dr. Dan Getz, chief medical officer at Providence Spokane, on Monday.

“We’re tight, and I don’t know if we can continue to care for more and more patients in our community,” Getz said.

Hospital officials asked their communities to get vaccinated to help hospitals and health care systems prevent having to ration care in the future. Hospitals in Eastern Washington are getting hit harder, in part due to lower vaccination rates.

“The reason we’re in a worse situation in Eastern Washington than the west side of the state is because we have a lower vaccination rate,” Getz said.

Help should be on the way, after the Department of Health asked the federal government for 1,200 health care and support staff workers at the start of this month.

The department prioritized 10 health care facilities where staff could be most effectively used.

MultiCare Deaconess Hospital and Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center are on that list, but no decisions have been finalized yet on how staff will be dispersed.

As of Monday, no federal contract workers have been dispatched to Washington hospitals, according to the department.

Gov. Jay Inslee has also requested additional Department of Defense support for Washington hospitals, in a letter he sent to the federal COVID-19 response coordinator last week.

The governor’s office has yet to hear back from the department on their request.

Here’s a look at local numbers:

The Spokane Regional Health District reported 220 new COVID-19 cases on Monday and nine additional deaths. Over the weekend, the district reported 611 new virus cases as well.

There have been 814 deaths due to COVID-19 in Spokane County residents.

There are 221 patients hospitalized with the virus in Spokane.

The Panhandle Health District reported 151 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend and on Monday as well as four additional deaths.

There have been 444 deaths due to COVID-19 in the Idaho Panhandle.

There are 125 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.