State COVID-19 transmission fastest since March, hospital surge ‘exponential’

COVID-19 cases are surging around the state at the fastest transmission rates since March, but what is even more concerning to health officials is the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals.

"COVID cases are continuing to escalate,” said Dr. Elizabeth Wako, chief operating officer at Swedish First Hill. “The cases here at First Hill, which is our flagship hospital at Swedish, have tripled since Halloween and just this morning, we admitted 10 patients in five hours, so that is exponential for us here.”

Even though Gov. Inslee’s new restrictions do not affect the health care system like they did in spring, Swedish is still reducing some of its elective procedures to try to make room for increasing COVID-19 needs. 

State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy said if the outbreak continues to grow at the rate it is right now, the state will very soon see 150 people a day admitted to hospitals for COVID-19. If, however, the governor’s restrictions are as successful as they were in March, modeling shows hospital admissions can reverse the trend by December. 

Source: Institute for Disease Modeling

School in session

Although New York City schools announced a shut down of in-person learning Wednesday, Washington state health officials believe there’s a way to safely continue limited in-person instruction. 

“We are also looking pretty closely at the science in early experience of schools here in the state and across the nation and we’re seeing signs that with rigorous health and safety measures in place, we really can limit transmission of COVID in the school environment,” said Lacy Fehrenbach, Washington’s deputy secretary of health for COVID-19 response. 

Fehrenbach said to date, they’ve seen eight small outbreaks this school year with less than 10 COVID-19 cases each. She said there have been no major outbreaks to date, but some teachers at Monroe School District are hesitant to return to the classroom after dozens of students and a few staff members were quarantined over exposure. 

Late Wednesday night, Monroe School District announced a pause in the return of first-grade students after pushback from staff and families.

State prepares for vaccine

The promise of not one, but two effective COVID-19 vaccines has the state working hard on its final plans for early distribution, which are currently in draft form, according to health officials.

Pfizer announced Wednesday that it plans to file for emergency authorization with the FDA on Friday, meaning if approved, states could start getting vaccines before the end of the calendar year. Also this week, Moderna announced positive effective results from its clinical trial and inched closer to requesting authorization. 

Washington state is asking providers to sign up to become distributors, but first priority to receive a vaccine will go to health care workers, Dr. Lofy said. She said health care workers are at risk of contracting COVID-19 from community transmission and being unable to work, further straining a health care system that is stressed with COVID-19 hospitalizations.