Washington Hospitals in 'Worst Situation' Since COVID Began, Official Warns

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COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to jump to record levels in Washington as the omicron variant makes its way across the state — a concerning trend as the region's short supply of health care workers is also becoming infected, testing supplies are running low and medical procedures continue to be postponed or canceled.

"This is the worst situation [that] hospitals in Washington state have been in compared to any prior point in the pandemic," Taya Briley, vice president of the Washington State Hospital Association, said in a Thursday news conference.

As of Thursday, COVID hospitalizations had hit an average of about 1,800 in the past week, exceeding the state's past high of about 1,700 hospitalizations per week in mid-September. Of those, about 149 patients are on ventilators — a 16% increase since last week, Briley said.

In King County, coronavirus infections and hospitalizations have continued to rise to record numbers as the omicron variant persists. On Thursday, Public Health — Seattle & King County reported a daily average of 5,896 new cases and 63 daily hospitalizations.

County health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said last week that researchers are predicting the omicron surge could peak in mid-January, give or take a few weeks, though he reminded the public COVID projections are fluid.

The Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, a research institute at the University of Washington, is predicting cases in the state could peak within the week and begin to fall through February and March.

Even if case numbers peak soon, hospital leaders are concerned about the delayed and lasting effects on health care systems.

At Swedish Health Services, cases are up over five times than what staff saw in December, said Dr. Elizabeth Wako, chief executive at Swedish First Hill, on Thursday.

About 22% of Swedish's ICU patients are infected with coronavirus and of those, 62% are not vaccinated, Wako said.

Eastern Washington remains a bit behind the surge seen throughout the Puget Sound region, but cases and hospitalizations are beginning to increase there and in more rural areas of the state, hospital leaders said.

In Lewis and Whitman counties, which according to the state Department of Health have the highest COVID hospitalization rates in the state, about 25 Washingtonians are being hospitalized per 100,000 people — reflecting a sharp increase since mid-December.

Reza Kaleel, chief executive of Kadlec Medical Center in Kennewick, said Thursday that one of his main challenges is controlling infection among staffers.

"We are in a much more challenging situation than we have been in other surges," Kaleel said.