Hospitals in Seattle are at their breaking point amid COVID crush of patients


(SEATTLE) — Seattle doctors say hospitals are reaching their breaking points as they deal with a crush of COVID-19 patients amid the latest surge fueled by the omicron variant.

Between Jan. 13 and Jan. 19, there has been an average of 64 new hospitalizations per day with a total of 449 during the week, according to county health department data.

This is a 460% increase from the 80 hospitalizations that were occurring over a one-week period just a month ago.

Additionally, 19.9 per 100,000 residents have been hospitalized over the seven-day period, according to health data.

As of this weekend, UW Medicine — which has four hospitals across its system — reported more than 200 COVID-19 patients for the first time ever.

By comparison, at the end of November, there were about 30 patients infected with the virus across the system, according to Dr. John Lynch, an infectious disease expert at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle and UW Medicine medical lead for the COVID-19 response.

“I think we’re closer now to a crisis — like a true crisis in health care — we’re closer than we’ve ever been during this entire pandemic,” Lynch told ABC News.

He said this is due to several factors, including the number of patients getting sick, hospitals reaching capacity, an exhausted health care workforce and the frustration of COVID patients being admitted to hospitals who are unvaccinated.

Before the omicron surge, unvaccinated King County residents were nine times more likely to be hospitalized and die, according to Public Health Seattle. During the omicron surge, unvaccinated people are now 12 times more likely to be hospitalized and 20 times more likely to die.

“We have these incredible vaccines that are so good at protecting us from serious disease and death, and yet people continue to … not get vaccinated and that ends up leading to them in the hospital,” Lynch said. “Health care workers don’t want to see people suffer and it is just so hard to see a big group of folks in the ICU because of something that was completely preventable.”

Lynch said most hospitals across Washington state were already very full when the omicron surge struck compared to other times during the pandemic, making it even more challenging to find enough beds, secure enough resources and prevent understaffing.

“My facility at Harborview, we were already about 100 patients over our normal capacity when the omicron surge hit,” he said. “Then the omicron surge came and so you basically had to absorb all these more patients, all of whom required precautions.”

Lynch urged residents to help ease the burden on hospitals by wearing masks indoors, getting vaccinated and boosted and avoiding large gatherings so they don’t potentially contract the virus and get seriously ill.

“We need your help in health care right now, in hospitals, in clinics, in emergency departments,” he said. “We need to slow down the number of new cases of COVID-19. That means please take every precaution not to get infected, not to end up in the hospital.”


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