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Washington health department expects high hospital occupancy to last through fall

The state health department says the state likely won't see hospital occupancy to return to normal for some time.

TUMWATER, Wash. — The Washington Department of Health (DOH) released the latest COVID-19 modeling and surveillance situation report Thursday, showing that hospital occupancy is expected to remain high through the fall with patients infected with the virus.

The prediction comes despite falling case counts and hospitalizations.

Since the summer’s delta surge, case rates have declined from a record high seven-day average of more than 3,360 cases to just over 2,130 as of Oct. 11.

According to the DOH report, the prevalence of the virus is at about .4% throughout the state, which is roughly one in every 244 Washingtonians with an active COVID-19 infection. That’s down from about .8% reported in September.

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Still, hospital admissions and occupancy remain high and the amount of daily deaths from COVID-19 continues to vary at a high level.

In early September, daily deaths reached 36, but that number only declined to 33 by Sept. 28.

The DOH credits the COVID-19 vaccine and masking for recent declines in COVID-19 cases, but more people need to get vaccinated and continue masking to keep trends declining, according to experts.

“We’re hopeful that the declines we’ve seen in the last few weeks will continue, but that will only be possible if vaccination rates continue to increase and we continue wearing masks,” said Dr. Scott Lindquist, state epidemiologist for communicable diseases.

The focus now is to get hospitals back to a place where they can operate at a sustainable level and treat everyone suffering from emergent and non-emergent ailments with the same level of care as before the pandemic.

“Our individual choices over the next several weeks will determine whether hospitals are able to return to a sustainable level of operations by the end of December,” Lindquist said.

Hospital levels due to the delta surge appeared to peak in September, but current hospitalization numbers are still similar to those experienced during the winter surge from November 2020 through January 2021.

Even as COVID-19 patients take up fewer beds, staff burnout and shortages along with patients returning for deferred health care will continue to strain the hospital system for some time.

The vaccine continues to be the greatest defense against infection and serious illness from the virus, health officials say.

   

Currently, those 12 years and older are eligible, but the Food and Drug Administration is expected to make a decision on whether or not to approve a lower-dose Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5-11 in the coming weeks.

As of Oct. 18, 72% of Washington’s eligible population is fully vaccinated against the virus.