Nation/World

Unvaccinated COVID-19 patients create ‘deeply frustrating’ situation at Washington state hospitals

SEATTLE — COVID-19 hospitalizations have reached a new peak, and doctors and staff are reacting in dismay as medical facilities across Washington state reach occupation levels higher than at any time point during the pandemic.

Hospitals, already struggling to maintain staff, are being forced to make hard decisions about how to keep beds free, Washington State Hospital Association CEO Cassie Sauer said during a news conference Thursday. They’ve already been postponing nonemergencies like cancer and heart procedures for weeks in some cases and are trying to discharge patients who would be better served at long-term care facilities.

This increase is being driven by unvaccinated people, upping the angst for health care workers.

“The unvaccinated are applying a lot of pressure to our hospital,” said Dr. George Diaz, of Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.

Sauer said there were about 1,100 people hospitalized statewide during the peak in December. On Thursday morning, she said, there were 1,240.

According to the latest COVID-19 modeling and surveillance situation report from the state Department of Health, the seven-day average of hospital admissions has tripled since July to 96.

Younger Washingtonians — those in their 20s and 30s — are making up more and more hospitalizations, the report said.

Researchers also found about 98% of new cases have been caused by the delta variant, and infections are “likely to continue in the coming month” due to the delta variant. Now, each new COVID-19 case will infect 1.49 more people, researchers say. It’s a sharp increase from July, when the best estimate of the effective reproductive number was 1.46, and June, when the effective reproductive number was estimated at 0.7. To see cases decline, the reproductive number needs to stay “well below 1.0 for a substantial amount of time,” the report said.

Meanwhile, death rates have stayed “fairly flat, with some variability,” with a seven-day rolling average of six per day as of July 30, the report said.

Since February, residents 12 and older who weren’t fully vaccinated made up about 93.7% of COVID-19 cases, 94.5% of hospitalizations and 92.9% of deaths in the state, according to DOH.

People who say “no” to the vaccine are not saying no to medical care once they get sick, said Sauer, which is “deeply frustrating” to hospital staff.

At Seattle Children’s hospital, unvaccinated teenagers make up the bulk of the pediatric COVID-19 cases, according to Dr. Danielle Zerr. The kids seem sicker than the patients did during the last peak in December, she said.

Statewide, hospital admissions are about six times higher for unvaccinated people ages 65 and older, while those ages 16 to 64 are 10 times more likely to be hospitalized if unvaccinated, DOH said.

Though beds are limited, Sauer said people should seek hospital treatment if they have chest pain, stroke symptoms or serious trauma. But, she also said, get vaccinated and try not to get hurt.

“Vaccinations will help us in the long term, but in order to get through the short term, we need to be wearing face coverings right now to control the spread of COVID-19,” Dr. Scott Lindquist, the state’s acting chief science officer, said in a Thursday statement.

“... At this point, to ensure that care is available when we need it, our hospitals are counting on every one of us to mask up and get vaccinated.”

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