Providence Medical Center Everett, where The Washington National Guard has been deployed to free up staff. (Sue Misao / Herald file)

Providence Medical Center Everett, where The Washington National Guard has been deployed to free up staff. (Sue Misao / Herald file)

How many ICU beds open in Snohomish County? One.

The omicron surge appears to be cresting here, but hospitalizations are expected to keep rising.

EVERETT — With COVID hospitalizations still on the rise, only one ICU bed was unoccupied as of Tuesday morning in Snohomish County, local health officials reported.

Now coronavirus hospitalizations are about double what they were at the county’s previous peak, with 222 beds occupied by patients infected with the virus, according to the Snohomish Health District.

“So occupancy is virtually 100%,” Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters said.

COVID-19 hospitalizations are taking up about 30% of available beds across the county. About 26 hospital beds outside of intensive care are still available.

“Disturbingly, and despite what appears to have been a crest in the infection rate, the situation with the health care system is likely to get worse before it gets better,” Spitters said.

The county’s two-week case count this week climbed to 2,997 per 100,000. But weekly counts appear to have crested, decreasing from 13,383 to 11,927.

That aligns with modeling by the University of Washington that finds case counts have peaked in the current surge and will begin to decline.

But hospitalizations tend to lag new infections. So even with a potential downturn in new cases, officials expect to see even more patients who need treatment at hospitals. Statewide, non-emergency surgeries have already been halted. The Washington National Guard has been deployed to Providence Regional Medical Center Everett and elsewhere to free up staff.

More hospitalizations, Spitters said, would mean staff-to-patient ratios will decrease, and hospitals could look to transfer patients to different counties.

“Do we reach a point where there’s just no beds left?” Spitters said. “… I hope that’s not the case. But it’s conceivable. And at that point, it’s something to be managed between health care systems and the state … to account for the incredible surge.”

The health district is discouraging people with mild respiratory illness from going to emergency departments. Instead, they should seek testing through locations listed on the state’s website or through private providers.

In addition to the new mass vaccination site that opened Tuesday, local officials are working with the state to open a new testing location. A federal portal for the public to order free rapid tests directly to their homes is now up and running at COVIDtests.gov.

Rapid tests ordered by the county have yet to make their way to communities.

Asked if increased testing capacity is arriving too late, Spitters said the resource would have been helpful earlier, but “we are still at the peak of a transmission wave.”

“And testing helps bend the curve when you’re on the way up, and keeps it going down when you’re on the way down,” he said. “So it’s not too late at all.”

Claudia Yaw: 425-339-3449; claudia.yaw@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @yawclaudia.

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