OLYMPIA – The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations is growing more concerning, state hospital leaders said Monday.
There are currently 600 patients with COVID in hospitals and even more people in beds suspected to have the virus but not yet confirmed, said Cassie Sauer, chief executive officer of the Washington State Hospital Association. That’s a 10% increase from the previous week.
“Right now, we’re in the ‘very concerned’ stage,” Sauer said.
Hospitals are still “well below the peak” that they saw in February when 1,700 people were sick with the virus in hospitals, but numbers are rising.
Community transmission is still high across Washington with 33 of Washington’s 39 counties in the state’s high transmission category, according to the Department of Health’s database.
Hospital systems across the state differ in how close they are to capacity, said Dr. Steven Mitchell, medical director of UW Medicine Harborview Medical Center Emergency Department and the Washington Medical Coordination Center. In some areas, such as Skagit, Pierce, Benton and Spokane counties, cases are rising, but in others, cases are at the same level or slightly decreasing.
In Spokane, Mitchell said hospitalizations are following a rise in cases, but not at the rate they saw in previous surges. Still, as of Monday, Spokane hospitals are “remarkably strained again,” he said.
According to last week’s data from the Spokane Regional Health District, the seven-day average hospital admission rate was 4.4 per 100,000. Last week, there were 24 total hospitalizations. That was up from 11 hospitalizations the week before.
The number of patients waiting for hospital beds at all four of the county’s hospitals is very high, and the state coordination center may soon need to find ways to offload them to other areas of the state, Mitchell said.
Local hospital leaders say much of the strain on the system is not necessarily due to COVID patients.
The majority of patients hospitalized at MultiCare are not COVID patients, spokesperson Kevin Maloney said. Only about 6% of Deaconess Hospital’s total patients are hospitalized for COVID.
Maloney said much of the capacity challenges are due to patients facing discharge barriers into adult hospitals. As of Thursday, MultiCare had 153 long-stay patients statewide, including 25 in the Inland Northwest region.
At Providence Sacred Heart and Holy Family hospitals, the number of COVID patients is increasing, spokesperson Ariana Lake said.
Lake said Providence continues to care for many patients whose care was delayed because of pandemic surges.
The people being hospitalized for COVID-19 tend to have multiple medical issues, are immunocompromised, older or not vaccinated, said Dr. Chris Baliga, infectious disease specialist at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health in the Seattle area.
“The type of people getting admitted hasn’t changed,” he said. “But by and large, they’re not as sick as they once were.”
COVID isn’t the only reason hospitals are filling up.
Some of the capacity issues are due to delayed care from previous COVID surges. People who waited to get care when hospitals were overwhelmed previously are now sicker than they would’ve been had they gotten care immediately, Sauer said.
Another reason is because some patients are unable to be transitioned from the hospital to a long-term care facility, Mitchell said.
Washington’s hospital system doesn’t have a lot of extra capacity even in normal times, Sauer said. With even more COVID-19 cases, that capacity continues to shrink.
There is some good news when it comes to COVID hospitalizations.
Most people are not getting as sick with COVID-19 as they were in the past, Sauer said.
That could be due to a number of things, including the variants, vaccine and booster coverage, and treatment.
“We have a better understanding of the disease and more effective treatments available,” Sauer said.
There’s currently six or seven COVID-related deaths a day in Washington, Sauer said. There are only 20 to 25 people on ventilators a day in Washington, which is more than hospital leaders want to see but less than during the disease’s peak.
One of the most widely available treatments is the antiviral therapy Paxlovid. There is currently “ample supply” of Paxlovid across the state, Sauer said. To be eligible to take it, patients must fit one of a number of broad categories, such as being 65 and older, having high blood pressure or being unvaccinated, she said.
To keep cases down, hospital leaders are encouraging everyone to wear masks indoors. The state Department of Health had similar recommendations two weeks ago.
They’re also encouraging anyone who feels sick to take a COVID-19 test and to seek treatment with their health care provider.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story had an inaccurate number of COVID-19 deaths per day due to an error from the Washington State Hospital Association.