With COVID-19 cases surging and with hospitals facing staffing shortages, Gov. Jay Inslee has made a prudent decision to deploy the National Guard for assistance.
Inslee last week ordered service men and women to hospitals and testing sites in non-medical roles across the state. Teams are being deployed to emergency departments at four hospitals — in Everett, Yakima, Wenatchee and Spokane. Coronavirus testing teams will be based at hospitals in Olympia, Richland, Seattle and Tacoma.
“Both because of the increase of cases and because people who work in these hospitals are themselves becoming ill, the staff shortages have pushed hospitals beyond their capacity,” Inslee said.
According to the governor’s office, the first week of January saw a 75 percent increase in COVID hospitalizations throughout the state. Last week, more than 2,000 people were hospitalized with the virus, and coronavirus patients made up about 18 percent of all patients and 22 percent of intensive care patients.
In Clark County, the public health department announced last week that hospital admissions increased 68.5 percent compared with the previous week.
“With staff stretched thinly in hospitals, and after months of working in crowded hospitals, it is more important than ever that we keep the exhausted hospital staff that we have safe and willing to come to work,” Inslee’s office said.
The desperation of the situation can be seen in another decision from the governor. Inslee also ordered a one-month pause in nonurgent hospital surgeries and procedures. Of course, a surgery appears to be nonurgent only if it is not yours or that of a family member; delaying procedures is a drastic step but a necessary one.
Amid all this, it remains clear that vaccinations are the most effective tactic for slowing the spread of the disease. The governor’s office reports that 80 percent of recent COVID-19 hospitalizations are from unvaccinated people.
Vaccines have been widely tested and have proven to be effective. While breakthrough cases are possible, the vaccines also have been shown to limit the severity of symptoms, sharply reducing the probability of hospitalization or death. The state Department of Health reports that 67.5 percent of Clark County residents age 12 and older have been fully vaccinated.
Inslee last week said, “Hospitals and doctors have told us that their systems really are now in crisis.” That echoes reports from the Washington State Medical Association and the state chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians. In a letter to state officials, they wrote: “Our emergency departments are overrun, our hospitals are full. We are emotionally and physically exhausted.”
The organizations recommended increasing incentives to long-term care providers who serve patients being discharged from hospitals, and urged the deployment of the National Guard to assist at hospitals.
Nearly two years into the pandemic, the lack of progress is frustrating. But the surge brought about by the omicron variant calls for quick and decisive action under the governor’s emergency powers. It calls for help from the National Guard and diligence on the part of Washington residents.
Despite widespread efforts and the widespread availability of vaccines, it is apparent that we will continue to have surges of COVID-19 that disrupt our community. Being vaccinated and being cautious are the only long-term ways to slow the virus.