Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are flattening across the state after rising to alarming levels as recently as two weeks ago, according to hospital leaders and the most recent data available.
The numbers are still higher than desired, Cassie Sauer, CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA), said during a news briefing Monday.
“Still concerned for sure about the level of hospitalizations,” she said. “We don’t like it, it’s higher than we would like, but that acceleration has declined.”
Sauer referenced the numbers displayed on the governor’s COVID-19 Risk Assessment Dashboard showing 173 ICU beds occupied as of May 6, the most recent date with available data. Two weeks ago the number was at 162 and was as high as 203 on April 19.
Last week, Gov. Jay Inslee paused the state’s reopening plan for two weeks because more recent data showed encouraging trends.
The reopening plan requires larger counties like King and Snohomish to average fewer than 200 new coronavirus cases for every 100,000 residents over 14 days and fewer than five hospitalizations for every 100,000 residents over seven days to stay in the third phase.
King County is reporting an average of 248.6 cases and 6.4 hospitalizations, according to the county dashboard. More recent, but incomplete, data show trends could be improving, with 203.8 cases and 3.5 hospitalizations.
Snohomish County’s average through the most recent two-week period ending April 24, according to its dashboard, shows the county at 229 cases with a rolling seven-day average ending April 13 for hospitalizations at five.
As encouraging as the hospitalization trend is there are still very sick people being admitted to hospitals because of COVID-19. Dr. John Lynch, an infectious disease specialist with UW Medicine, said that there are 11 people hospitalized at Harborview Medical Center for the disease and about the same number of people hospitalized but no longer infectious, including two people on heart-lung bypass machines.
“It’s really important to recognize that those folks often still continue to require medical care,” Lynch said during the WSHA briefing.
Hospitializations, in part, are holding steady because people are getting vaccinated and doing the things proven to offer protection against SARS-CoV-2, like wearing masks and social distancing, Sauer said.
“As we’ve said repeatedly, the fourth wave is stoppable, it’s totally stoppable. We know what behavior stops it,” she said “We need to work together to do it. And it feels like what we’re seeing right now that Washingtonians are responding.”
Preparing for 12- to 15-year-olds
Hospital staffs and administrations across the state are planning for the next group to be made eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. On Monday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the Pfizer vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds.
Shots could begin as soon as a federal vaccine advisory committee issues recommendations for using the two-dose vaccine in 12- to 15-year-olds, expected Wednesday.
A team from Swedish Medical Center, which operates the mass vaccination site at Lumen Field with the city of Seattle, is working with pediatricians and child specialists to create an environment where kids will feel comfortable getting vaccinated, Renee Rassilyer-Bomers, chief quality officer at Swedish, said at the briefing.
“If you can imagine, especially a mass vaccination site, where you’ve got hundreds of people coming into an area, there’s a lot of noise,” she said. “We need to think of strategies of how to distract. We also don’t want folks coming in finding kids in distress getting their vaccinations.”
One of the ideas is to create a “pod” or a private area for those younger than 16 to be vaccinated and to develop language about the vaccines that is age-appropriate while also educating parents and guardians.
The addition of 12- to 15-year-olds comes at a time that demand for the vaccine has slowed and has led vaccinators to lower boundaries to inoculations, like people no longer having to make appointments to be vaccinated at the Lumen Field site. The site can now handle up to 200 people without appointments an hour, Rassilyer-Bomers said.
“If you’re 16 and older get your vaccine,” she said. “There are so many opportunities out there.”