OLYMPIA, WA — The omicron wave may be peaking in Washington, and not a moment too soon, because hospital officials say ICUs are more crowded now than ever before.
"We're at a higher peak than we ever were with delta, and it continues to limit our hospital's ability to care for patients who need help," Washington State Hospital Association CEO Cassie Sauer said at a media briefing Thursday.
As of Thursday's briefing, there were 2,333 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Washington hospitals, and 147 more suspected COVID cases. According to Sauer, King and Pierce counties remain the hardest hit, but it's "only a matter of time" before other regions start to feel the sting.
Among the hospitalized, there has been a steady increase in patients requiring ventilation over the past week, and deaths have climbed as well, with the state averaging between 30 to 35 deaths each day. Almost all of the dead were unvaccinated or unboosted.
"This just floors me, that 30 or 35 people each day are losing their lives each day in our state to something that's mostly preventable is just stunningly tragic," Sauer said.
To keep up with the extreme strain that the rising number of severe cases is placing on health care workers, resource hospitals have been asked to activate a "guaranteed acceptance rotation protocol". The protocol should help the sickest, highest risk patients find hospital beds. The Washington State Hospital Association says it first established the protocol last fall, but hasn't had to put it in place until now.
"Triggering this system is a major bellwether of where we are now with COVID and hospital capacity, not a good bellwether," Sauer said.
While the situation in Washington's hospitals remains dire, there is hope for a better future. State health leaders on Wednesday said that COVID-19 cases may be at or nearing the peak. New hospitalizations have also declined slightly over the past few days.
"We're all crossing our fingers that that is actually the beginning of a trend and not just a blip," Sauer said.
"There is some hope that we may be at or close to the peak in Western Washington," said Dr. Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, Chief Science Officer for the Washington State Department of Health said at a DOH briefing Wednesday. "However, we are also seeing an acceleration in the growth of cases in some parts of Eastern Washington, so overall in our state the situation will continue to be difficult over the coming weeks."
As part of Wednesday's briefing, DOH leaders asked residents to avoid hospitals and emergency rooms unless they are at serious risk. Hospitals continue to struggle with heavy patient loads, and can only afford time to treat the seriously ill. Just last week, Gov. Jay Inslee mobilized the Washington National Guard to help ailing hospitals, and put a month-long pause on non-emergency procedures.