COVID-19 hospitalizations soar as Washington updates coronavirus response

The Washington Coronavirus Response Joint Information Center announced updates to the state’s COVID-19 response plan in the midst of a large increase in COVID-19-related hospitalizations.

According to the Washington Department of Health (DOH), the state is experiencing steep hospitalization rates with 932 hospitalized patients recorded on Nov 23rd — almost double the amount seen on Nov. 1st. ICU bed occupancy increased 75% between these dates. If this trend continues, total hospitalizations might reach 1,800 by mid-December, according to DOH. 



These increases could have a lasting effect on state hospital capacity. As people continue to need hospital services in the future, facilities will have limited space due to the high number of COVID-19 patients, DOH said.

“This situation is extraordinarily urgent, and we need everyone in Washington state to take action now to stop the spread of COVID-19 before our hospitals and frontline healthcare workers are overwhelmed,” said State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy. “I am extremely concerned about the current exponential growth of COVID-19 cases. We must all recommit to flatten the curve now.”

In the COVID-19 response update on Wednesday, health experts spoke about how COVID-19 continues to spread quickly in all areas of the state. Lofy spoke about how hospitals are quickly filling up  as a result. This capacity strain might force hospitals to postpone elective surgeries and non-COVID care for patients, she said.

State Epidemiologist for Communicable Diseases Dr. Scott Lindquist said Washington plans to increase contact tracing efforts by adding approximately 350 employees within the next two weeks. The DOH will improve case investigations and contact tracing by identifying super-spreader events and investigating every case with specific questions, said Lindquist.

“Every contact will be given direction all along the chain,” he added. “From the time they’re tested, to the time they’re contacted and receive a positive, they should be getting information along that whole pathway on what to do as a contact. This will also include some additional contact tracing, what we call ‘backwards contact tracing,’  where we actually work backwards from the case to identify contacts for large events.”

DOH Assistant Secretary Michelle Roberts is leading the COVID-19 Vaccine Planning Ward for the DOH. She gave updates regarding the COVID-19 vaccine.

Roberts said the FDA’s pending approval of an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) is significant and will bring Washington a step closer to receiving the vaccine.

“The FDA’s Vaccine and Related Biological Products Committee is scheduled to meet on Dec. 10th to review the EUA application,” she said. “If the EUA is approved, the vaccine will then be vetted by the Scientific Review Workgroup as part of the Western States Pact. The review by this workgroup will provide another layer of scrutiny and expert review to the process and should take about one to two days.”

She clarified that this review will not slow down distribution because vaccines will still be processing and shipping during this time.

According to Roberts, the federal government estimates Washington will receive about 62,400 doses of the Pfizer vaccine for the initial allocation and should receive around 200,000 Pfizer doses by the end of December. Regular Pfizer vaccine shipments will begin in January. There is currently no estimate for Moderna vaccine shipments. 

The DOH will not know what facilities will receive the first doses until December, said Roberts. She explained that 54 providers have already enrolled in DOH’s vaccine program and encourages more facilities to apply for administration approval. Health care workers will be the first to receive the vaccine under Phase 1 of the distribution plan, she said.

She noted that facilities without the required cold storage for the Pfizer vaccine will still be able to receive doses because it comes in a thermal shipper. The Pfizer shipments will contain 975 doses, and facilities can only receive these if they are able to vaccinate 975 patients. If they are unable, the DOH has created a policy that allows for the transfer of vaccine shipments between facilities to reduce waste.