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Washington health experts concerned about hospital capacity as COVID-19 cases surge

The state could need 667 ICU beds by February due to COVID. There are only 341 available statewide right now.

SEATTLE — What happened to hospitals during the spring COVID wave may amount to just a preview of what’s expected to hit the Northwest this coming February and March.

The number of beds, as well as the number of doctors, nurses and medical staff available, to take care of patients is making hospital administrators nervous.

The latest projections from the University of Washington’s Institute on Health Metrics and Evaluation (IMHE) finds that at its peak in late February, the state could need 667 ICU beds.

However, there are only 341 available statewide where things stand now.

"And that’s our big concern is that as you look at the IMHE Projections, then you really begin to see a constrained system where incredibly hard choices may have to be made," said Dr. Steve Mitchell head of the Washington Medical Coordination Center.

The center, located at Harborview, plays a critical role in managing COVID’s impact on the state’s hospitals.

Already, the state’s hospitals are trying to make room by rescheduling elective surgeries like knee replacements. And they are looking at the reestablishment of field hospitals like we saw in the spring.

"It’s all part of a stair-stepped progression as the disease burden increases," Mitchell said. 

RELATED: Gov. Inslee urges Washingtonians to avoid Thanksgiving gatherings amid spike in COVID cases

Harborview is the only Level One trauma center in the region serving patients from the northwest and Alaska. Scarcity of room could be an issue if those states are overwhelmed with COVID patients.

"When those options aren’t available to people locally, we are asking states to take care of COVID patients within their state," Mitchell said. "Once they have exhausted their state resources for their ability to place that patient, then we would get involved."

Gov. Jay Inslee again urged people to not gather, to keep hospitals from running out of rooms and staff.

"We cannot have people dying in the  parking lots of our hospitals," he said.