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COVID-19 deaths rising in Washington as hospitalizations hit all-time high

The state broke COVID-19 case and hospitalization records in August. The death rate also started to rise again after declining in the spring and summer.

SEATTLE — Washington's COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations are still on the rise, and now the death rate is starting to follow, according to a situation report from the Washington State Department of Health (DOH). 

The current surge of COVID-19 patients is still overwhelming Washington hospitals, and because of the increased transmission rate, the future of the state's healthcare system is uncertain, according to Dr. Scott Lindquist, Washington's state epidemiologist. 

“What this tells us is that our individual choices and behaviors today are going to determine whether or not our friends and families will have full access to health care in the near future, for any medical need, not just COVID,” Lindquist said.

The dire outlook is illustrated in the state’s latest COVID-19 modeling and surveillance situation report, which is based on complete data through Sept. 8.

The report shows Washington is worse off now than it was during the surge last winter, despite widespread vaccine availability. 

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For instance, the seven-day rolling average for new COVID-19 cases previously peaked on Jan. 8 at 2,941. The state hit a new record high seven-day rolling average on Aug. 31 at 3,476 cases, and as of Sept. 8, the case rate has only dropped to 3,195 cases.

Hospital admissions due to COVID-19 also broke records in August, with the seven-day rolling average hitting a new peak at 190 the week of Aug. 27. Hospitalizations dropped only slightly in September, hitting 186 for the week of Sept. 8. 

A week later on Sept. 15, the Washington Hospital Association said that there were 1,673 COVID-19 patients being treated across the state’s hospitals. That number is the equivalent of about three Harborview Medical Centers at capacity.

The state’s death rate, which lags behind hospitalizations and case counts, is approaching its winter surge peak.

On Jan. 10, the seven-day rolling average for COVID-19 deaths was 32. After falling to as low as five deaths through spring and mid-summer, the seven-day average was back to 27 deaths per day on Aug. 28.

The delta variant, the dominant strain not just in Washington but across the whole country, has been blamed for the latest wave in the pandemic along with the unvaccinated, who continue to make up 95% of hospitalizations and all but a very small percentage of deaths.  

Health officials continue to urge those who are able and eligible to get vaccinated as well as take other precautions to limit their risk of infection.

“The current surge of patients is overwhelming our hospitals. With school in session and flu season almost here, our best option for getting through the surge is to wear our masks and get vaccinated,” Lindquist said.

The current status of the state’s health care system and the current high rates of attrition and burnout among hospital staff prompted Gov. Jay Inslee to ask for staffing help from the federal government.

The DOH’s report says that the current transmission rate, which is an estimate of how many people become infected with COVID-19 from another COVID-positive person, is 1.14 as of Sept. 8. That number needs to be well below 1 in order to see cases, along with hospitalizations and deaths, begin to decline.

However, the state’s current projections show that high levels of hospital admissions and occupancy due to COVID-19 are likely to continue through the next three months.

As of Sept. 20, the state's data shows nearly 69% of Washington’s eligible population is fully vaccinated.

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