A surge of COVID-19 cases in Skagit County is putting a strain on area hospitals, and three of four COVID-19 deaths this month occurred within the last two weeks at Island Hospital.
“We’re holding very sick patients in our hospital because regional hospitals are all full,” Island Hospital CEO Charles Hall said Monday. “Many of them are at capacity or are on the verge — and we’re struggling, as they are struggling, to care for the massive amount of patients that require the care.”
Island Hospital has 43 patient beds, including six in intensive care; Skagit Valley Hospital in Mount Vernon has 137 acute-care beds; United General Medical Center in Sedro-Woolley has 35 beds. The COVID-19 caseload for August shows the demand being put on those hospitals, with some of the highest numbers of new cases and hospitalizations since the pandemic reached Skagit County in March 2020 — and the month is not over.
There have been 697 new COVID-19 cases in Skagit County in August as of Monday, the fourth-highest number of monthly new cases since the pandemic began. There have been four deaths this month, bringing the pandemic total to 83. And 58 people have been hospitalized in Skagit hospitals, the greatest number of hospitalizations since the pandemic arrived here, according to data on the Skagit County Public Health website.
“We may be at the darkest days in the pandemic,” Hall said.
Skagit County Public Health spokeswoman Danica Sessions said Monday that 371 of the county’s new cases in August came in one week, “which is of serious concern.”
The county may soon reopen its testing and vaccination site at the Skagit County Fairgrounds. The site was closed in June and replaced with mobile clinics. But the expected increase in demand means a fixed site would work better, Public Health Director Jennifer Johnson said.
The Skagit County commissioners asked county staff Monday to find ways to boost capacities for testing and vaccinations.
Johnson said the county has about $1.8 million left in government grants and relief funding that could be used, though the cost going forward is unknown. The fairgrounds site cost about $2 million to run since it opened and was entirely covered by outside funding.
The statewide case surge compelled Gov. Jay Inslee last week to again require the wearing of masks in indoor public spaces. He also has declared that all school employees, health care workers and state employees be vaccinated.
Sessions acknowledged that some people will be frustrated by the restrictions.
“The safest thing we can do right now is wear our masks when in indoor public spaces,” she said. “Wearing a mask helps to protect you, helps to protect your loved ones, and it helps to protect the individuals in our community who are not yet able to get vaccinated, including our young children.”
COVID-19 is spread through exposure to moisture contained in human breath that is exhaled. Health officials say masks keep people from exposing others to respiratory droplets and also helps protect the mask-wearer.
“The COVID-19 virus attacks specific body systems more severely than others,” Island Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jason Hogge said. “In some people who contract the virus, it can cause severe inflammation in the lungs. It does this by damaging the cells and tissue that line the air sacs of the lungs. These sacs are where the oxygen we breathe is processed and delivered to our blood and our bodies. The damaged cells do not allow for proper oxygen exchange, which can then lead to shortness of breath and even respiratory failure.”
The latest surge follows months of declining cases and hospitalizations since vaccines became readily available. So, what happened?
“We put out this wonderful goal of 70% community vaccination in hopes of (achieving) herd immunity,” Hall said. “The problem is, there was so much built-up tension that we went from ‘Please socially distance, be wise, if you’re not feeling well stay home, isolate if you’re high risk,’ to absolutely no rules — no masks, no distancing, large gatherings, with the risk of that variant that was out there. The danger wasn’t over and, as we see today, our state and local numbers are now higher than they’ve ever been in this pandemic.”
Hall’s plea: “Nobody likes restrictions and mandates, especially from the government, but I’m pleading with our community: Please wear your mask; please be vaccinated. If you’re not feeling well, please isolate. Avoid heavily populated situations and really help us beat this COVID virus.”
Countywide as of Monday, COVID-19 has infected 6,212 people, killed 83 and hospitalized 432. The rate of residents 12 and older who are fully vaccinated was 61.6%. Some 68% have initiated vaccination, up from 67.1% last week, according to the state Department of Health. (The 67.1% was incorrectly reported here last week as the rate of those who were fully vaccinated.)
Statewide as of Monday, the virus has infected a total of 477,415, up from 466,403 last week; killed 6,356, up from 6,248; and hospitalized 29,491, according to the state Department of Health. The statewide vaccination rate for residents 12 and older is 63.3%, up from 63% last week. Some 69.6% of those age 12 and older have initiated vaccination, according to the health department.
Nationwide, the virus has infected 37.5 million, up from 36.7 million a week ago, and killed 625,375, up from 619,564, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The national vaccination rate for those 12 and older is 60.2%, up from 59.4% the week prior. The percentage of those 12 and older who have initiated vaccination: 71%, the CDC reported.
Worldwide, the virus has infected 211.7 million, up from 207.1 million a week ago, and killed 4.43 million, up from 4.3 million, according to the World Health Organization. Some 4.6 billion vaccine doses have been administered, up from 4.4 billion the week prior, the organization reported. The world population is 7.78 billion, according to the U.S. Census Population Clock.
Vaccines are available
Skagit County Public Health is making third doses available to immunocompromised individuals at pop-up vaccine clinics and at the agency’s weekly vaccine clinic 6-9 p.m. Wednesdays at the County Administrative Building, 700 S. Second St., Mount Vernon. Bring your vaccination card with you when seeking a second or third dose.
To find other vaccination sites, go to vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov; text your zip code to GETVAX (438829) or VACUNA (822862); call 833-VAX-HELP; or call the Skagit County Public Health Vaccine Hotline at 360-416-1500.
For testing locations, go to https://bit.ly/3Aa2v8f.