Skagit County hospitals are struggling to handle a surge in patients in their emergency rooms at the same time that COVID-19 cases are rising.

Wait times in Skagit Valley Hospital’s emergency room are extending to hours during its busiest times, and the increase in the number of patients being seen daily has coincided with the lifting of most pandemic restrictions in late June, said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Connie Davis.

“COVID is part of it, but it’s not the only thing,” she said.

Davis said people put off primary care visits during the pandemic, and that’s catching up to them in the form of more urgent medical needs.

In addition, she said her staff is seeing patients suffering from the effects of alcohol or substance abuse, something that increased during the pandemic.

And with more documented COVID-19 cases in the community, the threat that someone with a severe case of the illness must wait for care is increasing, Davis said.

New cases rose in the county last week to 79 — the highest since May. The highly-contagious delta variant is to blame, and accounts for the majority of new infections, according to Skagit County Health Officer Howard Leibrand.

About 96% of new cases are in unvaccinated people, which Leibrand said demonstrates the vaccine’s effectiveness, even against the new variant.

In response to spikes nationwide, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued new masking guidance that recommends vaccinated people mask up in public indoor spaces in counties where COVID-19 transmission is substantial or high. The risk in Skagit County is currently considered substantial.

Island Hospital in Anacortes is dealing with the same issues as Skagit Valley Hospital.

Its 10-bed emergency room is regularly at double its capacity, and is spilling into other parts of the hospital, said spokesperson Laura Moroney.

Nearly half the patients coming in this week were suffering from severe COVID-like symptoms, which is a noticeable increase over recent weeks.

“We are seeing more COVID-19 patients who are sicker than we have seen throughout the pandemic,” she said.

Staff are being offered incentives to work extra shifts, Moroney said.

Davis said her team is sending physicians into the waiting room to triage patients and offer quick care to those who don’t need something intensive.

PeaceHealth United General in Sedro-Woolley has seen a 10% increase in emergency room visits compared to pre-pandemic numbers, something Chief Administrative Officer Chris Johnston said is manageable.

“Thankfully, we have adequate staff, supplies and space to care for all patients who seek care here,” Johnston said in an email.

Davis urged the public to do the kinds of things that will keep them from ending up in the emergency room.

She said they should keep up to date on preventative care, get necessary screenings, exercise and eat healthy.

“Take personal responsibility in doing those checks, because you have the most power in controlling your own health,” Davis said.

Davis and Moroney said their hospitals have walk-in clinics for less severe medical needs. Patients with cold symptoms, migraines, nausea, cuts or other mild symptoms should avoid the emergency room.

— Reporter Brandon Stone: bstone@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH

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