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Spokane County ICUs at 100% occupancy as new daily case record tops 1,200

MultiCare Deaconess Hospital in Spokane is seen in this August 2020 photo.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Spokane County broke a daily record for COVID-19 cases Wednesday, the same day health officials warned that the area’s intensive care units and hospitals are at or near capacity.

New COVID-19 cases topped 1,239 in Spokane County on Wednesday, and health officials are reporting hospitals are at 97% occupancy as of Wednesday morning.

Intensive care units, meanwhile, are full.

While COVID hospitalizations make up just 12% of patients in Spokane County hospitals, health officials warned that COVID case counts and hospitalizations will likely increase with the spread of omicron in the community.

Hospitals are keeping patients in emergency department beds as they are waiting to be moved to other parts of the hospital, sometimes for several nights.

If you are having an emergency, it is still important to go to the emergency room. If you are just looking for a COVID test, however, health officials ask that you look elsewhere.

“If you need a COVID test, the emergency room is not the place to go,” Health Officer Dr. Francisco Velázquez told reporters Wednesday.

Hospitals are struggling with staffing as employees stay home with COVID-19 exposures or positive tests.

The pandemic also has been going on for nearly two years now, with many health care workers experiencing burnout, and staffing shortages that predate the pandemic have become worse.

Both MultiCare and Providence hospitals in Spokane County are struggling with staffing.

MultiCare hospitals are using labor pools, which call on nonmedical staff to do things like deliver meals or PPE to patient floors.

Omicron is much more transmissible than the original strain of the virus. So far, health experts estimate it is more contagious than the delta variant.

As a result, COVID case counts are skyrocketing, and hospitalizations for the virus are beginning to increase as well.

Winter is usually a busy time for hospitals , when respiratory viruses circulate and the influenza season peaks.

But this year, hospitals never really got a break, between the delta variant wave in fall 2021 and this winter’s wave. This is, in part, due to the number of patients who had surgeries and inpatient procedures delayed with last fall’s COVID surge.

These patients were rescheduled for procedures, and as a result, statewide hospital occupancy never declined at the end of 2021, even though the number of COVID patients in the hospital dropped significantly.

Omicron has reversed these trends, however, and things are projected to get worse before they get better.

COVID hospitalizations are increasing dramatically statewide, and hospitals in Eastern Washington are bracing for a similar surge to what those in Western Washington are experiencing .

There are 115 COVID patients hospitalized in Spokane as of Wednesday evening; two weeks ago, there were just 65.

Velázquez said models project the peak for the omicron surge in Eastern Washington may be in early February, although he cautioned that these projections could change.

Regardless, he asked that community members reschedule or postpone large events and gatherings. He also encouraged people to get vaccinated, boosted and wear properly fitted masks to keep community transmission low.

Testing resources are limited. Health officials are asking that if you have COVID-like symptoms, which include fever, headache, fatigue, runny nose or a cough, you get tested and otherwise follow isolation guidance.

Across the state line, COVID cases are also skyrocketing.

The Panhandle Health District estimates that case counts are likely much higher than what is being reported due to lack of available testing and cases going unreported.

The region’s low vaccination rate and few precautions being taken, like limiting gatherings or wearing masks, are likely reasons for the increase in cases, according to the district.

“Right now, while cases are surging and the level of disease spread in our communities is high, I urge everyone to protect themselves and others,” Don Duffy, director at PHD, said in a news release.

Both COVID cases and hospitalizations are on the rise in North Idaho. Kootenai Health was treating 64 COVID patients as of Wednesday morning, including 21 patients needing critical care.

Here’s a look at local numbers

In addition to 1,239 new COVID cases, the Spokane Regional Health District reported one additional death on Wednesday.

There have been 1,160 deaths due to COVID-19 in Spokane County residents.

The Panhandle Health District reported 220 new COVID-19 cases and nine additional deaths.

There have been 809 deaths due to COVID-19 in Panhandle residents.

There are 96 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.