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Western Washington hospitals ‘closer than ever’ to crisis standards, as case counts continue to soar in Spokane

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 6, 2022

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)

Upgrade your mask, wear it properly, avoid in-person gatherings and brace yourself for what could be a few difficult weeks in the state’s health care system.

Amid the rising omicron surge, hospitals in Western Washington are back to canceling elective procedures, diverting staff from other parts of their hospitals, and trying to discharge patients who no longer need hospital care.

Case counts and hospitalizations continue to rise in the state.

In Spokane County, for example, a daily-record 848 new cases of COVID were reported Thursday by the Spokane Regional Health District.

Public health and hospital leaders say that the situation is going to get worse before it gets better in the coming weeks.

Hospitals are reporting busy emergency departments, including people seeking COVID tests and treatments.

Monoclonal antibodies and medications are in short supply, however, and are being reserved for the sickest or most at-risk patients.

“The manufacturing capacity for these medications isn’t enough to meet the demand,” Dr. Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, the health department’s chief science officer, said on Thursday.

The federal government is allocating set amounts of these treatments to each state.

Edging closer to crisis standardsHospital officials say this surge is different than previous surges.

“We are closer to a crisis situation than we ever have been,” Dr. John Lynch, medical director for infection control at UW Harborview Medical Center, told reporters Thursday.

Hospitals in Western Washington are filling with COVID patients, and they cannot discharge enough patients to keep up.

The pinch is concerning and leading some hospitals, like MultiCare hospitals in the Puget Sound, to go into crisis staffing ratios, stretching staff members to take care of more patients than they typically would. They’re also asking caregivers to return to work faster after being exposed to the virus or testing positive for COVID-19 under new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Omicron is highly contagious, and health care workers are not immune to its transmissibility.

Hospital leaders said workers calling in sick with COVID symptoms or having to stay home due to an exposure is straining their already tight staffing. Add to that patients who they can’t discharge to nursing homes or other long-term care settings, due to short staffing or COVID outbreaks there, and it’s become a perfect storm for facilities.

While this is hitting Western Washington hospitals hard now, it’s expected to impact Eastern Washington in the coming days and weeks.

Statewide hospitalizations for COVID-19 continue to climb as hospitals have admitted 500 additional COVID patients since New Year’s Eve.

There are 1,493 patients with the virus hospitalized.

Booster recommendations expandedAll Washington residents who are 12 years old and older are eligible for a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The CDC’s advisory panel approved the recommendation, and the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup affirmed their decision on Thursday.

For 12- to 17-year-olds, who can only receive the Pfizer vaccine, they must wait five months following their original vaccine series before getting a booster dose.

Statewide, a little more than 50% of 12- to 15-year-olds are considered fully vaccinated and will be eligible for booster doses five months after their second dose. In Spokane County, this new recommendation will apply to fewer young people. Just under 40% of 12- to 17-year-olds are considered fully vaccinated, according to state data.

Booster appointments can be found through the state’s vaccine locator tool or by calling (833) VAX-HELP.

Here’s a look at local numbersThe Spokane Regional Health District reported 848 new COVID cases on Thursday and corrected their death count.

There have been 1,154 deaths due to COVID-19 in Spokane County.

There are 83 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Spokane.

The Panhandle Health District reported 143 new COVID-19 cases and 14 additional deaths.

There have been 800 deaths due to COVID-19 in Panhandle residents.

There are 79 Panhandle residents hospitalized with COVID-19, and Kootenai Health is treating 56 patients 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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