Nearly 1,000 patients in Washington hospitals have confirmed or suspected diagnoses of COVID-19, according to a new tally that suggests earlier state surveys significantly undercounted these admissions.
Washington State Hospital Association statistics, current as of April 7, include 664 confirmed and another 331 suspected cases of the disease caused by the coronavirus. About half of the cases are in King County hospitals.
Cassie Sauer, the association’s executive director, said this count results from a new statewide reporting system that went into place on April 2 under a proclamation from state Secretary of Health John Wiesman.
This new system is more accurate than earlier surveys done in March, Sauer said, which counted weekly admissions of patients with COVID-19-like symptoms but did not track total patient counts. Those earlier surveys counted only 193 hospitalizations for the seven-day period that ended March 28, another 251 patients for the week of March 21 and 226 patients for the week ending March 7.
Sauer cautioned that the new numbers did not include all state hospitals and that the association staff continues to review the information to ensure it is being correctly reported.
These numbers, although higher than the earlier surveys, still roughly track with models showing Washington is flattening the curve of the coronavirus, and that hospitalizations statewide may have peaked. And Sauer, as well as state officials, note that if the COVID-19 patient counts do surge higher, there still is capacity in the Washington hospital system to treat these people.
That confidence was reflected in Gov. Jay Inslee’s decision Wednesday to return to the federal government the field hospital erected about a week ago in Seattle’s CenturyLink Field Event Center to help the health care system cope with what was expected to be an influx of patients.
Washington has lagged behind California, Oregon, Florida, New York and many other states in reporting up-to-date hospitalization data, which in recent weeks has emerged as key information in monitoring the strains that the pandemic is placing on health care systems.
Sauer said that the new Washington reporting system has a much clearer definition of what needs to be reported than the system used to compile the March figures.
Dr. Kathy Lofy, the state health officer, said Wednesday that the early survey systems did a good job of tracking trends over time as well as other important information. But she acknowledged that the surveys do not capture all the COVID-19 hospitalizations included in the state association reports.
“We’re super excited,” Lofy said. “I had been getting counts, but we weren’t getting complete reporting from all the hospitals” until this week.
Sauer said she did not find fault with the late Washington start to the total patient census counts of suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients. She said state officials focused more effort on trying to slow the spread of the pandemic — even if that slowed the development of daily reporting of hospitalizations.
“I think that was the right call,” Sauer said
Under Wiesman’s April 2 proclamation, licensed Washington hospitals must share data with the state hospital association, the state Department of Health and health care coalitions. These information requests may also include updates on equipment, staffing and bed capacity.
Wiesman on Tuesday said this electronic reporting system is in place. And, when asked by a reporter about daily hospitalization data, he said “we will start reporting that.”
Lofy said she hopes that the state could start providing the daily hospitalization updates in another week or so. She said that Washington is also gathering other important information from hospitals, such as numbers of COVID-19 patients who may suffer from diabetes or other underlying conditions, and the ethnicity of patients.
State officials have been working with Microsoft on a digital dashboard that breaks out that information, she said.
As of Wednesday, the state Department of Health website still had a graphic based on the older surveys that included no confirmed COVID-19 cases, only weekly tallies of patients hospitalized with COVID-19-like symptoms.
The UW’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has been modeling the numbers of hospital beds, as well as more specialized intensive care beds, that will be required in Washington state this spring for coronavirus patients.
The institute’s updated projection, as of Wednesday, suggested that the state hospitalizations peaked on April 2, and forecast that the coronavirus patient count would sharply decline in the weeks ahead. The model predicted by the end this month, Washington would have fewer than 200 coronavirus patients hospitalized, of which 34 would be in intensive care units.
But the statewide model, which has frequently changed as new information is processed, masks considerable variances in the coronavirus spread in different parts of Washington.
East of the Cascades, where the pandemic got a later start, Virginia Mason Memorial Hospital in Yakima expects COVID-19 patient counts to keep rising through much of April.
Currently, the hospital has 16 confirmed COVID-19 patients, including six that are on ventilators and another 20 patients being examined for COVID-19, according to a hospital spokeswoman.