Washington state’s COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rates have steadily declined for weeks, but that encouraging trend is starting to level off, hospital leaders said Monday.
Hospitals reported a daily average of 1,007 COVID patients statewide Monday, compared with 1,013 a week ago, a decrease of less than 1%, said Taya Briley, executive vice president of the Washington State Hospital Association. Hospitalization counts are based on a seven-day rolling average.
After a wave of the infectious delta variant peaked in early September, hospitalizations were decreasing by about 15% per week, according to the state Department of Health.
“We don’t like where we are plateauing,” Briley said at a news briefing. “We don’t know if cases are going to go up or down from here.”
Briley added that the state is plateauing at “much higher” levels than last winter, when hospitals were counting an average of about 300 COVID hospitalizations on a given day.
Intensive care units are about 87% full statewide, and hospitals have counted about 12 to 15 COVID deaths per day in the past week. As of late October, COVID patients were about 15% of general hospital occupancy.
At Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, Dr. Karthikeyan Muthuswamy said Monday about 10% of beds are being used by COVID patients.
“Ten percent doesn’t seem like a lot, but it affects our operations quite a bit,” said Muthuswamy, an emergency department physician at VMFH’s St. Clare Hospital in Lakewood. “We have to make sure those rooms are isolated. The amount of time it takes to take care of those patients (is) higher. Some of those rooms are double rooms and we can’t use them as double rooms anymore.”
He continued, “Because of this, we’re stretched to capacity.”
At VMFH, Muthuswamy said about 60 emergency department patients systemwide are sitting in hallway beds or other temporary locations because they’re out of space. About 10% are “ICU-level” patients, he said.
Despite the slowing rates of decline, hospital leaders said Monday they’re looking forward to news this week on childhood vaccinations, which are expected to roll out within days pending guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Food and Drug Administration granted emergency-use authorization last week for Pfizer’s shots for kids ages 5 to 11. Approval for Moderna’s shot for teens and kids, however, could be delayed for months as U.S. regulators study the rare risk of heart inflammation.
Advisers to the CDC are meeting Tuesday to discuss recommendations for Pfizer’s kid-sized vaccine dose, with a final decision by the agency’s director expected afterward.
Dr. John Hawes, a pediatrician at Swedish’s West Seattle clinic, said Monday that parents should only be worried about whether their child can be vaccinated if their child has a history of severe allergic reactions to immunizations.
“This is pretty rare,” he said. “Almost everyone in this age group can be vaccinated.”
Hawes and other pediatricians in the Monday panel urged parents to get their kids vaccinated as soon as possible, especially as flu season pushes forward.
“These vaccines will make our schools safer, keep the kids in our community healthy and make it easier for kids to … not worry about quarantining,” Hawes said.
Still, hospital leaders are recommending keeping holiday gatherings small.
“It’s so hard for me to tell people two years in a row, ‘Don’t go see your family,'” Muthuswamy said. “Just please be careful. Take the right precautions. Keep gatherings as small as possible.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story misstated the percentage of patients with COVID-19 at a Virginia Mason Franciscan Health clinic.