On Nov. 26, 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) shared disheartening news and designated an additional variant of COVID-19, Omicron, warning of a significant global risk. Omicron cases have since been confirmed in multiple countries and U.S. states. While it has not yet been discovered in Washington, it is only a matter of time.
Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have been decreasing in Washington, but the number of patients on ventilators have increased. Ten to 15 people in the state die every day, and it’s almost always preventable. We are very concerned about the impact a potential Omicron spike could have on our health care system, especially regarding already-delayed elective surgeries and constrained staffing levels.
WSHA is actively working with the Department of Health, the Department of Social & Health Services, the Health Care Authority and the Office of the Governor to alleviate strain on hospitals and address barriers to discharging patients. We are continuing to work with the state on re-establishing COVID-19 skilled nursing facility units, increasing support for long-term care facilities to increase staff salaries, addressing delays related to guardianships, and expanding capacity for behavioral health patients.
Patients requiring hospitalization from COVID-19 are overwhelmingly unvaccinated, which adds frustration. We urge members to tell the story of the severe illness hitting unvaccinated people. We also have had members share with their communities the irony that those who rejected vaccine as “experimental” or “unproven” are pleading for any treatment possible when they become ill – including those treatments that are experimental and unproven.
People who remain unvaccinated are at the highest risk and create the highest risk for others. Our advice to our members and the Washington health care community is to calmly, clearly and compassionately continue to encourage the public to get vaccinated, get booster shots, wear masks and socially distance. We don’t want to lose any more Washingtonians to this disease.
We will keep you updated as we work with the DOH and learn more. As always, you can find WSHA’s COVID-19 resources on our website at www.wsha.org/coronavirus.