Our health care system, including hospitals, emergency departments and emergency medical services (EMS) are there to take care of you during times of crisis, but we’re unable to do this critical work if we’re in crisis ourselves.

With COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations continuing to be at historic highs, the health care system is taxed, and we’re seeing impacts to quality and availability of care systemwide.

Increased hospital patient volumes are creating regionwide challenges with bed availability.

When emergency department or in-patient hospital beds aren’t available, hospitals in Skagit County enter what’s called “diversion status,” meaning that EMS personnel are asked to route patients arriving by ambulance to alternate hospitals, including those in neighboring counties.

EMS personnel must then drive farther to get patients the care they need or must wait longer at local hospitals for beds to become available.

Either way, hospital bed delays result in delayed patient care and can negatively impact patient outcomes. It can also mean a delay in available personnel and equipment to respond to the next emergency.

Statewide, we are seeing the highest COVID-19 hospitalization rates ever, with 17.7 patients per 100,000 residents from Aug. 22 to Aug. 28 (the most current complete data). This is higher than December 2020, when we saw between eight and 10 patients per 100,000 residents averaged over a seven-day period.

We also are seeing about one-third of all ICU beds in the state being occupied by COVID-19 patients, which is again higher than December when we saw about one-fifth of beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. Locally, our total ICU occupancy is at 88%, meaning we’re nearly at capacity.

All this is to say the health care system is overwhelmed, and health care staff, including first responders, are exhausted. We need your help to protect the capacity of our health care system.

This situation doesn’t just impact COVID-19 patients. It impacts car crash victims, heart attack patients, people in mental health crises, those struggling to control diabetes, gunshot victims and the child who broke his arm climbing a tree. It impacts everyone.

When our health care services are in crisis, every single individual in our community is at greater risk of poor health outcomes from any acute injury or illness. This is not a good situation to be in.

Fortunately, there are two simple things you can do to help:

1. Reduce your risk. Not just from COVID-19, but from all injuries and illnesses. Take caution and use appropriate health care services such as your primary care doctor or urgent care provider for minor illness and injury, and only use 911 for emergencies.

If looking for COVID-19 testing, please do not go to your local emergency department. Find a testing provider near you by visiting doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/COVID19/TestingforCOVID19/TestingLocations

2. Get vaccinated against COVID-19. If you have been vaccinated, talk to others in your life about getting vaccinated. It is a safe, effective and totally free tool available to you. CDC data shows that 99.99% of people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 did not die or even require hospitalization, and the highest hospitalization rates remain in areas with low vaccination rates. By getting vaccinated, you help stabilize our health care system and directly help improve health outcomes for those in crisis.

Skagit Public Health offers free COVID-19 vaccinations for those 12 years or older at the Skagit County Fairgrounds from 5 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. You can also find other providers in our community at skagitcounty.net/covidvaccine.

Get vaccinated, or help someone get vaccinated today.

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