SEATTLE — The Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA) held a briefing Monday to discuss COVID-19 vaccines and the impact of the now-dominant delta variant on the state’s strained health care system.
The briefing was led by WSHA CEO Cassie Sauer, who was joined by Dr. John Lynch of UW Medicine and Florence Chang, executive vice president and COO of MultiCare Health System.
Sauer, along with her fellow panelists, expressed disappointment at having to schedule the briefing, saying that she had thought the meetings would be phased as COVID-19 seemed to be slowing down prior to the delta variant onslaught.
She explained that, with vaccines being so readily available, the current surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations is scary, physically draining and emotionally draining for health care workers, who have been dealing with the pandemic for more than a year and a half.
Due to the danger that still exists with so many Washingtonians still unvaccinated, Sauer also announced that WSHA's board of directors is urging hospitals and health care providers to require their employees get the vaccine with very few exceptions.
"When the COVID-19 vaccines were first released, WSHA and its members strongly encouraged everyone who was eligible, including hospital and health system employees, to get vaccinated against COVID-19," Sauer said. "In the months since, clinical data has shown the COVID-19 vaccines to be extraordinarily safe and effective and our best tool to prevent spread of the disease."
Kaiser Permanente announced Monday it will require all its employees and physicians to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The organization includes more than 216,000 employees and more than 23,000 physicians. Kaiser aims to have all of its employees and doctors fully vaccinated by Sept. 30, 2021.
Monday's briefing also covered how hospitals across the state are filling up with COVID-19 patients in intensive care units, which are in addition to patients suffering from other trauma and those who had to postpone procedures due to previous COVID-19 restrictions.
"Right now, it’s pretty universal that every hospital is quite full," Sauer said.
Hospital admissions due to the coronavirus have spiked in just the last month, with more than 680 people hospitalized across the state with a COVID-like illness in a two-week period from July 11-24, according to the state’s Department of Health (DOH).
The data, though incomplete, show the state had a similar hospitalization rate at the end of July as early April when there were more eligibility restrictions on the vaccine and limited availability.
Lynch explained that hospitals are equipped to deal with an "expected" number of patients, but many facilities are nearing that threshold in terms of staff and capacity.
Health officials continue to call on those who are not vaccinated to get the shot, as the unvaccinated continue to make up the vast majority of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
"A number of our hospitals have queried the state’s immunization information system against the COVID patients they have, especially those in the ICU or are very, very sick, and are finding that zero or almost zero of them have been vaccinated.," Sauer said.
During the WSHA briefing, Washington State Medical Association President Dr. Nathan Schlicher also said he supported providers who require employees to get vaccinated, saying that patients should be confident about going to the hospital without "leaving sicker."
Lynch said that UW Medicine personnel is currently at almost 90%. MultiCare Health System is at about 70% vaccination rate, according to Chang, who said the company is working on communicating its vaccination requirement to all of its workers and partners.