FILE PHOTO — Signs around Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia show support for hospital workers.

The state Department of Health on Wednesday sent out an alert detailing the rising rate of hospital occupancy because of soaring COVID-19 cases, warning that the end result could mean patients of all kinds could face delays in treatment.

"In some cases, large hospital systems are facing situations that would necessitate delaying non-urgent procedures due to a lack of staffed hospital beds," the department said in its news release. "Situations like this can cause other patients with non-COVID-19 conditions to have to wait, and this also impacts anyone who else may need to seek care."

Locally, Tacoma-based CHI Franciscan reported that as of the week of Nov. 23, it had 111 COVID-19 patients admitted across its eight hospitals in the area, a 30 percent increase over the previous week's admitted cases.

"Like many Washington hospitals, CHI Franciscan is experiencing bed capacity and staffing challenges as admitted COVID-19 cases increased by nearly 150 percent across the entire system since the beginning of the month," it said in an update posted on its website.

Tacoma-based MultiCare told The News Tribune on Wednesday it had 106 COVID-19 patients across its six hospitals in the Puget Sound region, a 140 percent increase from Nov. 1, while its two hospitals in Spokane County had 33 COVID-19 patients, a 94 percent increase from Nov. 1.

The DOH on Tuesday said the state set a single-day record in new COVID-19 numbers, with 3,482 new confirmed cases and 35 deaths.

"The state continues to experience exponential growth in new cases. We are seeing alarming increases in the number of COVID-19 patients in our hospitals as well as the number hospitalized in Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds —critical capacity needed to treat severe COVID-19 cases as well as other patients with serious conditions," the DOH said Wednesday.

According to the state's COVID-19 dashboard, "The number of confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients in our hospitals doubled from 471 on November 1 to 932 on November 23. In addition, the number of confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients in our ICUs increased about 75 percent from 124 on November 1 to 214 on November 23.

"If this doubling rate continues, we may have over 1,800 COVID-19 patients in our hospitals by mid-December," the DOH warned Wednesday.

State health officials have warned that it's not just capacity that's at stake; overworked staff are increasingly facing the strains of the flood of new cases statewide.

"This situation is extraordinarily urgent, and we need everyone in Washington state to take action now to stop the spread of COVID-19 before our hospitals and front-line healthcare workers are overwhelmed," said state health officer Dr. Kathy Lofy. "I am extremely concerned about the current exponential growth of COVID-19 cases. We must all re-commit to flatten the curve now."

DOH said it was updating its hospitalization data on the state risk assessment dashboard to now show occupancy of ICU beds, "where capacity is likely to be exceeded first."

According to DOH, the new data will include:

— Number and percent of adult staffed beds (not pediatric) occupied by any patients.

— Number and percent of all staffed beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.

— Number and percent of adult ICU staffed beds occupied by any patients.

— Number and percent of adult ICU staffed beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.

On Tuesday, health workers joined Gov. Jay Inslee to urge the public ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday to do all it can to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

"At some point, if we don't change the trajectory of this disease, we're going to be making choices that people are going to be uncomfortable with, that will leave a permanent scar on those that have to make those hard decisions," Dr. Nathan Schlicher, president of the Washington State Medical Association, said at Tuesday's news conference.

The guidance on Wednesday continued to call for residents to stay home as much as possible and to not gather with people outside your immediate household.


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