COVID-19 surge puts strain on local hospitals

Delta is the predominate strain in Washington.

Hospitals across the state are strained because of the increase in cases and with the highest levels of occupancy the state has seen, said Dr. Steve Mitchell, director of Washington Medical Coordination Center.

“Our hospitals in particular that provide advanced care, where patients are transferred to, all of them are stretched and stressed, and are stretching their staff in ways that we have never asked them to stretch before,” Mitchell said.

The Delta variant accounts for nearly all of the COVID-19 cases in Washington, according to the state Department of Health.

Washington’s Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah spoke about the rise in cases and the strain it has put on hospitals in Washington during a web briefing on Aug. 25.

“This pandemic is not slowing down. If anything, it’s speeding up,” Shah said. “The Delta variant has ravaged our state. It has preyed particularly on those who are unvaccinated. Those unvaccinated persons unfortunately have driven our cases and hospitalizations.”

Unvaccinated people are putting a strain on hospitals across the state and spreading resources thin, Shah said. From Feb. 1, to Aug. 3, 95% of people hospitalized with COVID-19 were not fully vaccinated, Shah said. People ages 16–44 are 16 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 if they have not been vaccinated, according to the Department of Health.

Children aren’t immune from getting the virus either. The highest increase in cases is in young adults, teens and children, said Dr. Jeff Duchin, King County’s health officer, during a briefing on Aug. 27.

Unvaccinated people are 37 times more likely to be hospitalized and 67 times more likely to die from COVID-19 compared to fully vaccinated people in the same age group, Duchin said. Projections by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation suggest that if universal mask wearing begins next week, then 1,600 to 2,500 deaths could be prevented in Washington, Duchin said.

In all of King County, three people ages 10-19 have died from COVID-19.

The rise in cases, especially younger people, is concerning as school is set to start in-person for most districts next month.

This increase comes in spite of the fact over 70% of people ages 12 and older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19, according to King County.

Increasing vaccinations and wearing masks are key to ending the pandemic in Washington, Shah said. Wearing a mask will be crucial for kids returning to school in a few weeks, Shah said.

“Anything we can do to increase vaccinations, whether that means requirements or incentives, are key to protecting our communities,” Shah said.

One silver lining in all of this is that despite an increase in cases and hospitalizations, deaths from COVID-19 in Washington have remained stable, said Dr. Scott Lindquist, chief scientist at the Department of Health.

Stable death rates suggest that the Delta variant may not be more severe than the original strain of COVID-19 — it’s just more infectious, Lindquist said.

Graph depicting increase of COVID-19 cases in Auburn. Screenshot of King County COVID-19 dashboard.

Graph depicting increase of COVID-19 cases in Auburn. Screenshot of King County COVID-19 dashboard.