Surgeries paused, National Guard deployed to assist hospitals

King County health officials say 1 in 7 ICU and acute-care hospital beds are occupied by a COVID patient.

During a news conference Thursday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee explains the deployment of the National Guard to hospitals to assist with the coronavirus surge. (TVW)

During a news conference Thursday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee explains the deployment of the National Guard to hospitals to assist with the coronavirus surge. (TVW)

The Washington National Guard will be deployed to some hospitals in the state to assist medical emergency departments overwhelmed by the recent coronavirus surge, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Jan. 13.

And to free up staff for patients needing emergency care, the governor is ordering a four-week pause on non-urgent medical procedures statewide.

At a news conference, the governor said his actions are in response to hospital leaders who say they are in a crisis situation as they try to cope with a dramatic increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations and a dire shortage of staff needed to treat patients. This week, for example, officials reported Snohomish County’s ICU capacity at 95% and its overall hospital capacity is at 97%.

During a virtual press conference on Jan. 7, Jeff Duchin, Health Officer for Public Health — Seattle & King County, said the infection rate has gone up 12-fold in the past month as a record-breaking average number of cases occur per day and hospitals are taxed by a five-times increase in hospitalizations in the same time span.

Duchin said 1 in 7 ICU and acute-care hospital beds are currently occupied by a COVID patient. He said non-COVID hospitalizations and under-staffing are currently putting more stress on the healthcare system than at any point in the pandemic. The rate at which the omicron variant has spread over the past month is “mind boggling,” he said, because it is estimated by experts at the University of Washington that 90 percent of COVID cases in the region can be attributed to the new variant.

The steps announced by Inslee are reminiscent of ones he took in the pandemic’s earliest days, in 2020.

Inslee said 100 members of the National Guard will be deployed statewide. Some will be carrying out non-medical tasks to alleviate “the crowded and chaotic situation” in emergency departments in Everett and at hospitals in Spokane, Yakima and Wenatchee. Troops also will be used to bolster COVID-19 testing teams outside hospitals in Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia and Richland.

Inslee also took aim at another challenge: people who do not need to be in hospitals but are there nonetheless because there is no space or staff for them in a long-term care facility.

He said the state will help beef up staffing in nursing homes so they can admit more of those patients. And, the governor said, more people will be put to work helping patients make the transition into long-term care, thus freeing up needed hospital beds.


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