With COVID infections and hospitalizations higher than ever in Wahington, the governor and state health leaders have appealed to the federal government for help staffing hospitals. They’re even seeking volunteers, such as retired health care practitioners, to assist in hospitals and with vaccinations.
Last week Gov. Jay Inslee and Secretary of Health Umair Shah wrote to leaders of several branches of the federal government, requesting medical staff and other resources to support hospitals and long-term care facilities throughout the state.
These appeals come on top of a request for 1,200 health care workers submitted earlier this month to the federal General Services Administration by the Department of Health (DOH) for nurses respiratory therapists, cooks and laundry workers. Inslee has also requested medical personnel from the Department of Defense.
“COVID-19 patients, those seeking care for other medical reasons, along with staff shortages, have all put stress on our current hospital system,” Shah said in a news release about his request to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. “DOH is seeking additional federal resources to support our health care providers and remains hopeful that the federal government will support our community through this difficult time.”
Hospitals were already nearing capacity over the summer, in part because many people delayed medical care early in the pandemic, Inslee said in his request to White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients. But the spike in cases caused by the Delta variant this summer has pushed hospitals to the brink. From mid-July to late August, hospitalizations doubled every two weeks, Inslee said.
Although hospitals have stretched staff and canceled most non-urgent procedures, it hasn’t been enough to relieve the crisis, Inslee said.
“While there are hopeful signs that the current wave of infection is peaking, and some states are beginning to see declines, we have not yet seen that effect here. Washington State has historically lagged the country in previous COVID-19 waves, and the same pattern is playing out with the enormous impact we are seeing from the Delta variant,” Inslee wrote to Zients.
The state is facing this emergency despite concerted efforts to curb the spread of COVID, including fully vaccinating about 70% of the eligible population; requiring vaccinations for health care
workers, state employees and school staff; and implementing mask requirements in all indoor public spaces, Shah said.
The state doesn’t know if it will get the resources it requested, according to Franji Khayes, an emergency communications consultant with DOH.
Behind the scenes at Mid-Valley Hospital
The toll on hospital staff is made painfully clear in a new video that provides a glimpse into the crisis at Mid-Valley Hospital in Omak. Mid-Valley has run out of rooms that have negative air pressure, a key precaution to isolate infectious patients, and the hospital doesn’t have enough telemetry units to monitor all patients. The nursing staff is exhausted, each responsible for up to five patients without any aides. And they face the excruciating decision about which patient is the highest priority for limited resources, a Mid-Valley nurse said.
It’s the first in a series of videos Okanogan County Public Health is producing to help people understand the impact of the pandemic on different groups in the county. There’s a link to the video on the Public Health Facebook page.
Okanogan County cases
Okanogan County is reporting a grim new tally — nine more deaths from COVID, bringing the total the county has lost to the disease to 53. The nine people died within the past two weeks, Public Health said. They constitute 17% of the county’s total deaths from COVID.
One of the individuals was a woman in her 40s, two were men in their 60s, and there were three women and three men in their 70s.
Public Health delays the announcement of COVID-associated deaths to give families time to notify their loved ones. They also verify that COVID-19 is listed as a cause of death on the death certificate.
The county reported 228 new cases in the six days ending Sept. 26. The majority of cases were in the county’s youngest residents, with 73 infections in those zero to 19. There were 59 cases in those 20 to 39, 55 in those 40 to 59, and 33 in those 60 to 79.
As has been the case in recent weeks, the majority of cases (54) were in Omak. There were four cases in the Methow Valley: two in Twisp and two in Winthrop.
There were 42 people being treated for COVID at Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee as of Sept. 28, compared with 51 last week. Thirty-seven of the patients are not fully vaccinated. Ten patients are in the ICU and eight on a ventilator. Nine of the patients are Okanogan County residents.
Okanogan County Public Health is reporting case rates per 100,000 population on a weekly basis. The two-week incidence rate for the total population was 1,199 as of last week. For the unvaccinated population, it was 2,221, and for the vaccinated population, it was 278.
Public Health staff do case investigations to learn where someone was infected and to be able to quarantine contacts to prevent further disease transmission. But sometimes it’s not possible to definitively link COVID cases to any one setting or event. For example, many youths and adults who tested positive for COVID-19 attended the Okanogan County Fair, but they also recently returned to school or had a close contact in school, where other positive cases were identified, Public Health said this week.
Cases remain high over all in Okanogan County and anyone can have COVID-19 and not know they are contagious. Public Health advises people to use social distancing and wear a mask in indoor public spaces and outdoors in large groups of people.
The vaccination rate in the county had increased to 52.6% of the total population as of Sept. 22, 2 percentage points higher than on Sept. 5.
Booster shots available around the county
The Washington Department of Health (DOH) has approved boosters of a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine for certain high-risk individuals. The DOH approval follows recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC recommends boosters for:
• people 65 years and older
• people living in long-term care facilities
• people aged 18 to 64 with certain underlying medical conditions or at risk because of their work
The boosters should be administered at least six months after the Pfizer second dose.
“We are fortunate to have as many options as we do with all of the health care entities able to offer the third doses,” said John McReynolds, CEO of North Valley Hospital, which is administering Pfizer boosters at Tonasket Family Medical Clinic by appointment. Mid-Valley Hospital and Family Health Centers are also holding vaccine events. “It should not be necessary for patients to drive long distances to have access to third doses,” McReynolds said.
Third doses of the Moderna vaccine are approved solely for immunocompromised individuals. A second dose of the J&J vaccine has not been approved.
People can also obtain their initial doses of any of the three vaccines at vaccination sites around the county. For more information, go to https://okanogancountycovid19.org/covid-19-vaccine or call (866) 458-0169.
All COVID vaccines are free.