EVERETT — As hospitalizations catch up with record-high local COVID-19 infections, Everett’s Providence hospital campuses are clamping down on visitations.
And for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, non-emergency procedures will be put on hold.
“It’s been very fast,” said Jay Cook, chief medical officer for Providence Regional Medical Center, in an interview Tuesday with The Daily Herald. “Within the last week our in-patient hospital volumes have doubled. Actually, a little bit more than doubled.”
The surge will likely continue, he said, since hospitalizations tend to lag case surges.
Last week, the Snohomish Health District reported its highest-ever weekly case count, at 2,719. This week, that number had more than doubled, at 5,583. The spike was so dramatic the district had to resize its weekly graph to accommodate the higher numbers.
The county’s 14-day case rate has also more than doubled, now standing at a record 997 per 100,000, according to the health district. That means in the past two weeks, approximately one in every 100 people here got COVID-19.
Countywide, the number of hospitalized COVID patients has hovered in the 40s to 50s for several weeks. This week, it jumped to 88.
The decision to halt all routine visitations, which were previously allowed on Wednesdays and Saturdays, was especially difficult to make, Cook said.
“This was something all of us in leadership, and caregivers in the hospital, really struggled with,” he said. “We understand how important it is for patients who are sick enough to be in the hospital to see their loved ones. And it’s heartbreaking when there are barriers to that.”
But as cases surged locally, there were indications that visitors brought the virus into the hospital, he added.
Visitor exceptions will be made for those going to the maternity, pediatrics and NICU units, as well as those making end-of-life visits.
Surgeries now put on hold can include serious heart procedures and surgeries for cancer patients.
The plan is to postpone those for two weeks, although the hospital system is prepared to extend that. Modeling by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation still predicts Washington’s cases, hospitalizations and deaths to continue rising into next month.
This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 95% of cases nationwide can be attributed to the highly contagious omicron variant. The concern has officials urging people to get boosted and wear better masks. Omicron “can more easily escape regular surgical masks,” Washington’s Chief Science Officer Tao Kwan-Gett said last week.
Local Providence hospitals have seen in-patient volumes like this before, Cook said.
What’s different this time around is the “profound” impact on hospital staff, who are overwhelmingly vaccinated against the disease and therefore protected against severe illness, but still have to isolate if infected.
That, paired with the “great resignation” of nursing staff, Cook said, means remaining employees need to be tending not only to COVID patients, but people coming in with heart attacks, strokes, accidents and other life-threatening emergencies.
Also unique to this surge is that fewer COVID patients are needing the Intensive Care Unit. That’s perhaps the result of the omicron variant causing less severe illness.
“Although I’ll also say, in the same breath, that sometimes those patients who are initially admitted take a few days to get sick enough to go to the ICU,” Cook said.
Snohomish County’s spike in cases and hospitalizations is mirrored across Washington. The state’s COVID-19 data dashboard shows both metrics once again soaring. It has caused a rush for tests, including locally, where county-run vaccine and testing sites have been closed due to snow and ice.
County health officials will hold their first coronavirus briefing in weeks Wednesday morning. The same day, Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to provide more details on the opening of several new state-run vaccination sites.