With Washington state currently facing a wave of COVID-19 spurred on by the virus’s omicron variant, the state has put a number of measures in place to handle the surge in hospitalizations, the governor announced.
During a Jan. 13 press conference, Gov. Jay Inslee announced hospitals in the state are required to temporarily halt non-emergent medical procedures. The move is intended to free up staff to handle the ongoing wave of COVID-19, which has seen substantial increases in activity in recent weeks.
Though Inslee said there is “some good news” worldwide and in other states of a potential peak, he did not believe Washington is done with the latest wave.
“We do believe we are in for several weeks of very hard slogging in Washington state,” Inslee said.
The peak would likely occur later than other states as omicron hit Washington later, the governor said. He said hospitalizations would peak after the infections, as has been the case in the past.
COVID-19 patients made up about 18% of hospital occupancies and 22% of intensive care units (ICUs) in the state, Inslee said. Roughly 80% of those patients were unvaccinated.
The governor said many hospitals have already taken to halting those non-ermergent procedures. He said the determination of what counts as an urgent procedure under the new restriction is up to the physician’s discretion.
“If the physician identifies harm or a worsening condition … that procedure can still be done,” Inslee said.
The halting of non-emergency procedures will last for four weeks, Inslee said.
Inslee also said he would require hospitals to be in “conventional” status for its personal protective equipment (PPE) resources. The status would require facilities to have a “steady supply” of PPE to build confidence among hospital staff that they are protected, he said.
Supply chain issues during the early months of the pandemic were not the same as they are now, Inslee said, and the state now had adequate access to PPE.
Inslee said most of the issues facing hospitals relate to staffing. Both the increase in cases and staff becoming ill has impacted hospitals’ staffing resources.
To free up staff, Inslee announced he was ordering 100 members of the Washington National Guard to assist hospitals across the state. The personnel will assist with non-medical tasks such as alleviating issues in emergency departments and assisting with COVID-19 testing.
Washington National Guard Commander Bret Daugherty said all 100 personnel would be deployed by Jan. 24. The decision to deploy non-medical National Guard personnel is an effort to not dip into health care resources in the state for those medical professionals who do serve in the guard, the governor said.
“It’s not a solution to take those nurses and physicians out of their civilian employment where they are today working in hospitals, put them in a guard uniform and then put them back just where they were working,” Inslee said.
Inslee said the deployment would last a month. The personnel will be sent to hospitals in Everett, Yakima, Wenatchee and Spokane, the governor said. Some personnel will also be designated to set up testing centers at hospitals in Olympia, Richland, Seattle and Tacoma.
Inslee mentioned the state has a third-party contract allowing hospitals to “order up” additional staff. So far, the state has helped hospitals with 875 staff through that avenue, with an additional 200 on their way to facilities.
Another issue in the state is placing COVID-19 patients after discharge who still required care in long-term facilities. Inslee said the state will increase contracted staff at those facilities by 200 people, and would provide incentives for “strike teams” at long-term care facilities.
Though at the forefront now, Inslee said a shortage of health care professionals has been a challenge even before the pandemic. To address the issue, he pointed to $30 million in his supplemental budget that will be considered by the Washington State Legislature, which would address delays in training caused by a lack of opportunities.
“We need more folks even after the omicron hopefully passes us by, or is at least reduced dramatically,” Inslee said. “We’re still going to need more personnel.”