Washington’s weekly COVID-19 hospital admissions rose in June but remain less than half the level of the pandemic’s spring peak, according to an analysis of Department of Health data.
Washington health officials are keeping a close eye on hospitalization levels amid a surge in the number of state residents testing positive. So far, there remains ample capacity in hospitals in the Puget Sound region and most other counties.
Statewide, COVID-19 hospitalizations tallied 211 admissions for the week that began June 21. That was 57.5% higher than the last week in May, when 134 patients were admitted with the virus. This trend is driven, in part, by increased hospitalizations in Yakima and some other eastern Washington counties. But it was still far below the 519 admissions of the week that began March 29, when severe outbreaks spread through elderly populations in assisted living facilities and other locations in the region.
The more recent COVID-19 cases have included a lot more younger Washingtonians, who often have milder cases of the coronavirus and are less likely to require inpatient care. And these case counts are increasing at a much faster rate than hospitalizations.
For the week of June 22, state testing detected 3,100 cases of the coronavirus, which was 67% higher than the number for the last week in May and more than double the count for the first week in May.
King County is part of the statewide upswing in positive case counts, jumping from an average of 40 in the beginning of June to an average of 100 by the month’s end.
Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County, said more than half of the new cases involve young adults between the ages of 20 and 39. And county hospitalization rates during the last two weeks of June were actually lower than they were earlier in the month, which Duchin attributes to the young ages of so many of those testing positive; they are generally healthy and less likely to develop severe disease.
In Snohomish County, Providence Regional Medical Center patient admissions for COVID-19 also have dropped dramatically. That hospital reached a peak count of 59 COVID-19 patients in April to an average census of 15 during the past week, according to Melissa Tizon, a Providence spokesperson in Washington.
Still, the Puget Sound region experiences of the spring, as well as the situations in Florida, Texas and Arizona, where COVID-19 patient admissions have surged, show the power of the virus. And Washington state and county health officials are wary of the future.
Duchin says the King County case surge “seriously threatens” health and the progress made in reopening the community. He notes that if the cases spread widely, even some younger people will be at risk of severe illness or death, and eventually they might pass it on to older adults and others more vulnerable to the disease.
“My opinion is all these factors will result in increasing hospitalizations lagging several weeks behind case counts,” said Duchin, who urges people to step up COVID-19 prevention “big time,” with more masking and distancing, and fewer gatherings outside the home.
East of the Cascades, some counties have had much later peaks in hospitalizations.
Franklin County, for example, had just two COVID-19 admissions for the week of March 29 as west-side admissions pushed the state to the spring peak. But Franklin County had 25 admissions during the week that began June 14.
COVID-19 patients may require lengthy hospitalizations so that the total patient count at hospitals across the state is significantly higher than the weekly admissions. Those numbers are tracked by the Washington State Hospital Association, which Tuesday reported a statewide total of 330 COVID-19 positive patients admitted to hospitals and another 137 who are suspected of having COVID. That’s compared with an April 8 peak of 1,001 hospitalizations of patients with COVID-19 and those suspected of being infected with the virus.
Many COVID-19 patients reside in specialized intensive care units with negative air pressure to reduce the infection’s spread. Statewide, those rooms are at less than 60% occupancy, as of Tuesday, according to the hospital association.
Beth Zborowski, a hospital association spokesperson, said the most serious challenges often involve finding enough staff trained for the specialized care required for seriously ill COVID-19 patients.
But Zborowski said people with other types of health concerns should not be putting off visits to the doctor.