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COVID hospitalizations decreasing in Washington, but deaths are still high

Registered nurse Lilyrose Fox, left, talks with coronavirus patient Shanon Walker in the COVID acute care unit at UW Medical Center-Montlake, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Seattle.
Elaine Thompson
The Associated Press

The good news is COVID-19 hospitalizations in Washington are trending down. That’s according to the Washington State Hospital Association. The bad news: COVID deaths are on the rise.

State data show an average of 30 Washingtonians are dying from COVID every day.

And now hospital staffs are preparing for winter – and that means a possible flu season.

Dr. Radha Agrawal is a pulmonologist and critical care medicine specialist at Overlake Medical Center in Bellevue. She’s not sure how the staff there will handle another pandemic winter.

“I honestly don’t know what we’re going to do. … Our nurses are pretty much being pushed to the max,” Agrawal said. “If we have more fuel on top of that, I don’t know what our plans are. I just don’t see it going very well."

Some health practitioners believe the number of flu cases was much lower last year because of COVID strategies like mask wearing and distancing. This year, they encourage people to remain vigilant and get a flu shot.

Meanwhile, hospitals in Idaho and Alaska are operating under what’s known as crisis standards of care because of COVID. That allows them to ration health-care services. So far, Washington hospitals have been able to avoid rationing care.

Dr. Ryan Keay of Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett says that’s partly because Washington’s hospitals are still canceling some non-emergency but critical treatments like heart and cancer surgeries.

“On any given day, we work on who has an ICU bed, if we have one open, if somebody else has one open,” Keay said. “We are taking in about two to three transfers from the region a day and recently took a patient from Alaska who’d reached out to 20 other hospitals trying to get care.”

Vaccination remains the best available protection against COVID-19, health-care professionals say.

Mayowa Aina reports and produces special projects, including podcasts and series, for KNKX. Mayowa started her public radio career at KUOW in Seattle. She's worked at NPR in Washington, D.C. and Alaska Public Media before moving back to her hometown of Tacoma to work at KNKX.
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