SEATTLE — As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations appear to be plateauing across the state, leaders with the Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA) discussed the state’s health care system as the pandemic continues raging on Monday morning.
WSHA Executive Vice President Taya Briley expressed concern about the plateau, explaining, "One thing we don’t know about a plateau is whether cases will go up or down from here.”
"Plateauing" refers to the epidemiological curve, which tracks cases and hospitalizations over time. The latest plateau comes as cases and hospitalizations were on the decline following the delta variant surge.
Currently, the number of daily COVID-19 hospitalizations across the state has stalled around 1,000 over recent weeks. This is about the same daily number of hospitalizations as in December 2020 at the peak of the winter surge, according to Briley.
Briley also said that many pediatric hospitals have been reporting an increase in adolescent patients being admitted for anxiety and depression, putting additional strain on the system.
WSHA did not release final COVID-19 vaccination numbers among staff following the deadline for Gov. Jay Inslee’s mandate, but previous estimates show that hospitals statewide were expected to lose 2-5% of staff.
The panelists also expressed their optimism about the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine for those ages 5-11 likely being approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention later this week amid high levels of infection in children.
Dr. Mary Fairchok of Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma said that in the month of September, her facility saw 114 pediatric patients testing positive for COVID-19 through her emergency department. Those who were later admitted into acute care were mostly patients over 10 years old.
Additionally, Fairchok said about 45 of these patients recently have come down with multisystem inflammatory syndrome, which worsens their condition.
Hospitals have been under continued strain from staff burnout and continued occupancy issues, especially due to unvaccinated COVID-19 patients as explained by emergency department physician Dr. Karthikeyan Muthuswamy with Franciscan Health.
For Muthuswamy's facility, all COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit are unvaccinated. He added that these patients have become progressively younger as the delta variant continues to take a toll.
"Taking care of a sick patient is always hard, but when you see it younger and younger patients, it really, really hurts your soul in a way that’s very difficult to describe," Muthuswamy said.
These issues most recently have been exacerbated by other patients needing treatment for other emergency ailments like broken bones as well as those who had delayed their care earlier in the pandemic.
Muthuswamy said that recently, an elderly woman with a broken hip had to be treated in a bed in a hallway due to the lack of space.
Recently, Washington health care providers like Providence and MultiCare have been offering employees cash bonuses and wellness resources.
The DOH said recently that it expects hospital occupancy to remain high through the fall season.
Washington state is still seeing about 12 to 15 deaths a day due to COVID-19, which amounts to about 100 deaths a week.
Roughly 60% of the state's total population is fully vaccinated against the virus.