Northwestern states struggle with delta variant surge

·4 min read

Three states in the Northwest, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, are now experiencing the full brunt of the delta variant surge that for weeks was largely confined to Southern states.

Since early August, cases and hospitalizations have risen precipitously in the Northwest. In Idaho, daily cases roses from a seven-day average of 343 on Aug. 1 to 1,093 by Sept. 4, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“In July, things were fairly manageable,” said Brian Whitlock, president and CEO of the Idaho Hospital Association. “Then starting about the first of August, things just took off in our hospitals. Our numbers just skyrocketed. And all of our projections would indicate that this surge is going to continue in Idaho for another four to five weeks.”

Hospitals in the northern panhandle of Idaho are so overwhelmed that they have moved to “crisis standards of care,” which means that resources such as medicine, beds, and equipment can be given to those COVID-19 patients most likely to survive and not those with the most severe illness.

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Hospitals in the rest of Idaho haven’t yet reached that point, but they are still struggling, Whitlock said.

“Traditional intensive care units are completely full,” he said. “And so they are now opening up overflow ICU units, which are also filling up, causing them to open up even more overflow ICU units.”

Of about 200 ICU beds in Idaho, only about 11 were open as of Sept. 9, according to the Idaho Division of Public Health.

Cassie Sauer, president and CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association, began her weekly COVID-19 briefing last Tuesday by saying, “I’ll start with some opening comments, and they continue to be bad. I actually hate my opening comments.”

During the week leading up to Labor Day weekend, the number of COVID-19 patients on ventilators increased to 251, a 34% increase from the previous week.

“To be clear, a lot of these people are not going to make it,” Sauer said.

For the week ending Sept. 3, which is the latest data available, the Washington State Department of Health reported that over 88% of ICU beds were in use, 34% of which were filled with COVID-19 patients.

Julie Peterson, CEO of Kittitas Valley Healthcare, a rural, critical access hospital in Ellensburg near the middle of Washington, said that when possible, her hospital takes patients for other hospitals, including patients from larger hospitals.

“That was never the case in the past [with larger hospitals],” said Peterson.

But Kittitas isn’t taking many transfer patients at present as all 25 beds at the hospital were full heading into the Labor Day weekend. That affects care for other critically ill patients.

“If you come in with a cardiac event or a stroke, there is not a bed for you. And if there is a bed, you may be waiting for an ambulance,” Peterson said. “This is not just a COVID emergency. It’s an emergency for our rural residents who have come to rely on our ability to treat and transfer patients to a higher level of care.”

For Oregon, there does appear to be a bit of good news, as CDC data shows new cases dropping about 20% in the last week and new hospitalizations dropping about 11%.

But Dr. Douglas Merrill, chief medical officer at St. Charles Health System in Bend, Oregon, says the worst is far from over.

“Even with a decline in patients, we're still so flat out with all this doubling up of rooms, it will be some time before our staff are feeling relieved,” Merrill said.

St. Charles is a four-hospital system that serves rural areas in central Oregon. Merrill added that rural areas are lagging behind urban ones when it comes to seeing a decline in cases.

According to the Oregon Health Authority, only 46 of the 620 ICU beds in the state are unoccupied.

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Merrill noted that his hospital system has also been canceling elective surgeries due to the delta surge, a problem that is common for other hospitals in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Elective surgeries are scheduled in advance and are not emergencies. They can include procedures such as joint replacements and heart operations.

“We’ve been cutting back on surgeries for well over a year,” Merrill said. “We have a huge backlog in the community, possibly approaching 4,000 people who need surgery.”

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Tags: Healthcare, Coronavirus, Delta Variant, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Vaccination, Hospitals

Original Author: David Hogberg

Original Location: Northwestern states struggle with delta variant surge

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