SEATTLE — Washington hospitals now have 251 patients on ventilators as of Tuesday morning, a 34% increase in just one week.
The remarkable statistic was shared during the Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA) briefing Tuesday morning during which officials delivered an update on the status of hospitals amid a fifth wave in the COVID-19 pandemic.
WSHA president Cassie Sauer was joined by Harborview Medical Center obstetrics specialist Dr. Linda Eckert, Kittitas Valley Healthcare CEO Julie Petersen, and Providence Health Care COO Peg Currie.
Sauer said that, even with a large in reporting due to the Labor Day holiday, there was a 7% weekly increase of COVID-19 patients in hospitals, now totaling 1,674 across the state.
Hospitals have been under an incredible amount of strain in recent weeks as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rose exponentially through the month of August due to the delta variant.
Currie delivered an update for her hospital in Spokane where her staff is treating well over 300 COVID-19 patients.
She shared her experience last week of walking through intensive care units, saying, "The patients there, I can’t describe it using any other word besides misery. There are people up there on oxygen leaned over gasping for breath."
Currie also explained that just 40 minutes away from her hospital in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, Kootenai Health declared crisis standards of care, an official process by which the hospital must ration care from patient to patient, after overflowing with cases of COVID-19.
Sauer said the Idaho crisis will undoubtedly affect Washington hospitals, which have vowed to help other states when possible.
"Health care is not an unlimited resource," Currie said.
Petersen said that Kittitas Hospital is full as of this morning not because of a lack of space but because of a lack of staff.
"If you come in with a stroke, if you come in with a cardiac event, there is not a bed out there for you," she said. "This is not just a COVID emergency. This is an emergency for rural residents who have come to rely on our ability to treat and transfer patients to a higher level of care."
Since last week’s WSHA update, King and Pierce counties both issued outdoor mask mandates, and a number of school districts have returned to class around the state.
At least nine school districts returned to in-person learning Tuesday, and outdoor mask mandates took effect in King and Pierce counties, requiring face coverings regardless of vaccination status at all large outdoor events.
Also, following some concern from the WSHA panelists about the likely spike in cases at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup, the Pierce County health officer mandated the event require universal masking since it began before the outdoor mandate took effect.
The mandates, following the statewide universal mask requirement for indoor public spaces, come as hospitalizations have reached new all-time highs.
The state has far surpassed its previous record of about 1,100 hospitalizations set during last winter’s COVID-19 surge. As of Aug. 30, there were more than 1,500 hospitalized due to the virus, the equivalent of multiple Harborview Medical Centers at capacity.
Officials continue to urge those who can to get vaccinated, with the latest data showing only about 0.5% of Washingtonians who are fully vaccinated have tested positive for the virus.
This includes pregnant women who, Eckert said Tuesday, are 15 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than those who are not pregnant.
She echoed what other specialists and doctors have said regarding many babies having to be delivered early after their mothers catch COVID-19 because the mother is struggling to breath. Eckert said that pregnant women with COVID-19 are 22 times more likely to have to undergo a forced early labor and delivery.
As for the safety of the vaccine, Eckert said that all of the evidence shows that the vaccine is incredibly safe for pregnant women.
“Pregnant women tolerate the vaccine very well," she said. "We know there’s not a risk of infertility."
She added that there is some evidence that pregnant women even have a lesser chance of experiencing side effects to the vaccine than those who are not vaccinated.
At last week’s briefing, Dr. Mark Johnson with Confluence Health said the latest models show the state’s vaccination rate needs to reach at least 85% of the total population to beat the delta variant.
As of Sept. 1, only about 61% of the state’s total population has initiated vaccination.