PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center officials announced Wednesday morning that their modeling suggests the current wave of COVID-19 patients at the hospital will reach its peak about Sept. 4.
Hospitals throughout the region have been grappling with a surge of new cases in recent weeks due to the spread of the more-contagious delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus.
“Unfortunately, we don’t think we’re quite through this fifth wave of COVID yet,” said Dr. Lawrence Neville, chief medical officer of the PeaceHealth Columbia Network, which includes PeaceHealth Southwest and PeaceHealth St. John in Longview.
The Vancouver hospital was treating 69 COVID-19 patients as of Wednesday morning, 18 of whom were in intensive care, he said. The facility is at 92-95 percent capacity. The Longview location is treating 46 patients.
Emergency Department Medical Director Dr. Jason Hanley said the overall volume of patients arriving at the emergency room is “what we expect and what we’re used to.” He said COVID-19 patients account for about 10 percent of the daily total.
However, COVID-19 patients tend to stay at the hospital longer than average and require a lot of resources, he said, which is why the hospital overall is near capacity and wait times are long.
The hospital has added an outdoor tent in order to expand waiting room capacity and maintain social distancing, he said. He said the hospital began to experiment this week with sending patients home with oxygen when appropriate, a practice that he said has been adopted at other hospitals nationally and in the Portland region.
Hanley said patients with emergencies should still come to the hospital, but people with lesser concerns should consider first contacting their doctor or going to an urgent care location. He also urged residents to avoid going to the emergency room solely for COVID-19 tests.
“We really encourage patients to not use the emergency department for this,” he said. “There are resources in the community.”
Approximately 95 percent of the current COVID-19 patient population at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center is unvaccinated, according to Neville. Breakthrough cases account for the remaining 5 percent, which Neville highlighted as an illustration of the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in preventing hospitalization.
The hospital is aiming to achieve a 100 percent vaccination rate among its staff by the end of August, he said, adding that the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday, along with recent health care worker vaccine mandates issued by Govs. Jay Inslee and Kate Brown, should provide enough momentum to reach that target.
He later clarified that some staff could be subject to religious or medical exceptions, which would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.