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Hospitals in Washington state say they are prepared for a third surge of COVID-19

AP File Photo
The Associated Press
Outside Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, WA.

It’s not a matter of if a third wave of the coronavirus will hit Washington state, but a matter of when, says Dr. Steve Mitchell at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Positive cases are ticking up in Washington, and area hospitals are planning for a surge.

Nationally, health officials have warned that these next few months could potentially be the deadliest of this pandemic. While hospitals here in the Northwest are concerned, they also say they are in much better shape to handle an increase in patients with COVID-19 than they were back in March when less was known about the virus.

“I'm feeling very good about how well we're prepared,” said Dr. David Carlson with MultiCare health system, which operates several hospitals across the state.

Carlson says a few factors will potentially make a third wave less deadly than the first. One improvement from the spring is that nursing homes are doing a better job of protecting the elderly. “Particularly those in communal living situations and nursing homes, far better," Carlson said. "We're still seeing cases there, but we're not seeing these major outbreaks very often. So that makes a really big difference in what happens within the hospital.”

Also, doctors now know better ways to treat COVID-19 patients. Doctors have found that a technique called “proning,” having a patient lay on their stomach instead of their back, can be more effective in helping someone breathe than putting them on a ventilator.

“What we found is that the ventilators don't work on this disease the same way they worked in other diseases,” Carlson said.

Both MultiCare and Harborview Medical Center in Seattle say they do not expect routine care and elective surgeries will have to be canceled, as they were in the spring.

Harborview is still seeing the effects of those delays in care, and the consequences of people not seeking treatment out of fear of contracting COVID. Mitchell, with Harborview, says the patients he and his colleagues are treating right now are coming in more ill than usual.

“I have taken care of patients who have had a heart attack, patients who have not had their diabetes under control, people who have had infections that are out of control, that were just worried about coming to the hospital. By caring for them earlier, they would have prevented more serious consequences of their illness,” Mitchell said.

Another area of concern as coronavirus cases tick up is having enough staff on hand to handle an increase in patients.

“At some point in time, you run out of people. The caregivers, the nurses and the assistants and the environmental service workers. They can only do so much,” said Carlson, with MultiCare.

Carlson says you can make more personal protective equipment, such as gloves and masks, but you can’t make more staff.

Mitchell says he’s telling his family and friends that they can all do their part in keeping the volume at area hospitals low by washing their hands, socially distancing and wearing a mask.

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Jennifer Wing is a former KNKX reporter and producer who worked on the show Sound Effect and Transmission podcast.