OLYMPIA — Washington could face a “catastrophic loss of medical care” in the coming weeks if the increase in COVID-19 cases continues, Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday.
Tuesday’s remarks came as Washington shattered its previous record for daily cases of the new coronavirus. State health officials reported 3,482 new cases statewide, along with 35 new deaths. King County alone reported 888 new cases.
The previous record was 2,589 cases in one day, reported just a week ago on Nov. 17.
Increasing numbers of hospitalizations for the new virus mean hospitals could have to delay treatment for cancer, and procedures like knee or hip replacements, Inslee said in a news conference.
“But they will also have to move into a critical-care situation where they simply cannot provide care for critically ill people whose life is threatened,” said Inslee. “And we’ll have to move to some degree to a triage situation to see who can get that care.”
But, “In December [at] some point, unless something changes, we very well could be in a situation with catastrophic loss of medical care in the state of Washington,” said Inslee. The state has asked the Bellevue-based Institute for Disease Modeling for more projections, he said.
State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy, also at the news conference, added that hospitalizations continue to rise, and “We’re very concerned about what this is going to mean for our hospitals.”
“Hospitals have begun delaying nonurgent procedures,” she said, “and if this trajectory continues, they are going to need to delay most of their surgeries.”
The question over hospital capacity isn’t just about space or equipment, but about having enough staff on hand to handle caseloads.
Health care workers are fatigued after months of the pandemic and some are falling ill. The increase in cases nationwide may limit the ability of medical workers from outside the area to help, according to Inslee and Nathan Schlicher, Washington State Medical Association president.
“We can’t simply toss another body into the problem,” Schlicher said. “We have to recognize that at some point if we don’t change the trajectory of the disease, we’re going to be making choices that people are going to be uncomfortable with.”
Inslee earlier this month implemented a new round of emergency restrictions — such as the closure of gyms and indoor dining — in an attempt to stem rising cases.
And he and health officials have implored Washingtonians to skip Thanksgiving gatherings this year.