GEE AND URSULA

WA needs to ‘take strong actions’ to lower risk of overwhelming hospitals

Nov 27, 2020, 12:10 PM | Updated: 3:05 pm
hospitals, Harborview, heart...
Personnel meet in the trauma surgery ICU at Harborview Medical Center on Nov. 26, 2020, in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

State and county health officials, as well as Governor Inslee, have warned that Washington could face a loss of medical care if COVID cases overwhelm our hospitals. To share insights as to how close we are to that scenario and what the situation looks like right now in local hospitals, Dr. John Lynch, director of the Infectious Diseases Clinic at Harborview, joined KIRO Radio’s Gee & Ursula Show.

“We are seeing a tremendous number of new cases in King County, in Seattle, in Washington state, and those increasing number of cases are definitely transitioning into hospitalizations,” Lynch said. “And we’re seeing that at UW Medicine facilities, especially in South King County. My colleagues at Valley Medical Center are seeing a lot more patients, and we are as well here at Harborview. It is definitely a troubling trend.”

Hospitals in Washington state at record capacity, doctor says

At this time, Dr. Lynch says medical facilities, hospitals, and clinics in the state are well-staffed and able to provide all the care that is appropriate. However, they are starting to think about what it would look like if the current trends continue.

“This isn’t one week, two weeks, or even a month. This is something that could potentially be growing, increasing over the next several months,” he said. “And if we get the point where we don’t have enough resources, we enter into what’s called the crisis standards of care, which Governor Inslee mentioned. And I want to also be clear that decisions around those are made at the state level and at the regional level, those aren’t decisions that hospitals make.”

“Should that ever happen, … the extreme concern they’re seeing in other states is where the potential for rationing care starts playing a role,” he said. “So instead of focusing on the absolute best way to take care of a patient, you’re looking at what’s the absolute best way to keep a health system functional.”

Managing COVID fatigue

Among the general public, there is rising COVID fatigue at a time when cases are increasing. There are also a number of people who claim that this virus is no worse than the flu, but Dr. Lynch says it is very different, and very serious.

“Fortunately, so far, we haven’t seen an uptick in influenza,” he said. “And what I would say is different this year with COVID-19, what makes SARS-CoV-2 different is that when you look at the absolute number of people infected, the proportion of people who are are getting hospitalized is much greater. And the fatality rate overall also appears to be greater, but I would say is really, really, really elevated in at-risk groups, particularly older adults.”

“… It is also important to recognize that when you’re looking at this many infections happening, we’re seeing people ending up in the hospitals, and clinics, emergency departments across the entire age spectrum,” he added. “And unfortunately, that’s also true in critical care. I’ve talked to colleagues at Seattle Children’s and other facilities, and there are people in the ICUs across every age group, and the absolute numbers far, far, far exceed anything we’ve seen with influenza.”

Lynch, who has been following influenza trends for over a decade on a daily basis, says they’ve never seen anything like this before.

“You’ve seen the national statistics. We’re well over 250,000 deaths in the United States, an incredible number of infections. And those are numbers that we do not see with influenza on a yearly basis,” he said.

The fatigue is being felt in the medical community as well.

“I get it. I understand that completely. I’m exhausted,” he said. “I think everyone I know in the community is exhausted by this, but I will just let folks know that the people at the bedside who are doing this care, they feel that pandemic fatigue 100 times over.”

“To see yet another wave that is going out into the future indefinitely is overwhelming and more than exhausting,” he added. “… What we need to do as a community is to do take every action to prevent folks from getting sick with COVID-19 to help support these folks. You can just imagine if you’re at the bedside in the ICU as a nurse or respiratory therapist, you’re seeing yet another person admitted with COVID 19, and you see people in bars and restaurants or attending large group gatherings out in the community, how that dissonance impacts your mental health.”

For now, Lynch says they have enough PPE and staff, but the real concern is what things will look like in a month, or even further down the line.

“We have enough people to take care of patients, as we always have, to maintain a very safe environment, do all the medical care that is appropriate,” he said. “But we are taking actions in order to create more space and more staff.”

UW Medicine and other local facilities, he says, have already started to dial back many non-urgent surgeries in order to free up staff and beds.

“But what makes a hospital bed is the team that surrounds the bed and the patient who’s in it,” he said. “And those teams are … our most valuable resource. And we’re definitely seeing across the country a shortage, and going back to [the] question around resources and crisis standards of care, it is more likely than not that the most stressed part of all this is staff.”

“We can talk about PPE, we have lots of ways to mitigate that. But you cannot create a new respiratory therapist with the skill to operate a ventilator or to assess a patient. You can’t create a critical care nurse, or an acute care nurse, or an ICU doctor right out of thin air,” he added. “There’s ways to mitigate it. But that’s really, probably the most stressful part of this.”

Virologist says it’s not a given we’ll be ‘back to our normal lives’ by May

Dr. Lynch said we still have a long way to go in fighting off COVID-19 and flattening the curve.  Thankfully, there are individual actions we can take to help limit the spread of this virus.

“We have months ahead of us of potentially increasing numbers unless we take strong actions that to turn that down, like we did in prior surges,” he said. “And that’s across the board. It’s bars, it’s restaurants, it’s the gatherings. It’s lots and lots of different things where we interact with folks, particularly with masks off. So get used to the masks. This is part of the current normal for the coming months, throughout the winter season.”

“There is potentially a light at the end of the tunnel here. The information around the vaccines is extremely promising, but it is going to take time to get that out to folks,” he added. “And so next year is really about how can we all work together to get all of us that point of vaccination.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

Gee and Ursula Show

Gee and Ursula

right on red...
Bill Kaczaraba

Gee & Ursula: Right turns on red may become a thing of the past

Under new legislation proposed in the state Senate, right turns on red at many intersections may become a thing of the past in the state.
2 days ago
african-american studies...
Bill Kaczaraba

Gee & Ursula: FL downsizing Black studies ‘doesn’t erase history’

The College Board has released a stripped-down version of its new Advanced Placement course on Black studies.
3 days ago
dedo...
Frank Sumrall

KIRO’s Darren Dedo recovering after battle with bilateral pneumonia

Through ECMO and amazing medical care, more than a month later, Dedo was able to join The Gee and Ursula Show remotely from his hospital bed.
4 days ago
Seattle Police...
Bill Kaczaraba

Gee & Ursula: Naming officer in pedestrian death was appropriate

Gee & Ursula believe that releasing the name of the police officer involved in the deadly pedestrian crash in Seattle was appropriate.
4 days ago
scenarios...
Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin Show

Scenarios: I’m not ok with my stepdaughter spending my husband’s money

On the Gee and Ursula Show, hosts Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin give advice to help other people in a segment called … Scenarios.
4 days ago
Tips...
Bill Kaczaraba

Gee Scott on service charges at restaurants: ‘You’re getting no tip’

Right now, Washington state law dictates that all tips belong to employees, but which workers get the money is decided by management.
5 days ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
WA needs to ‘take strong actions’ to lower risk of overwhelming hospitals