High levels of hospital occupancy likely to continue through fall 2021

For immediate release: October 21, 2021   (21-216)Spanish

Media contact:  DOH Communications

Public inquiries: State COVID-19 Assistance Hotline, 1-800-525-0127

High levels of hospital occupancy likely to continue through fall 2021

Declines in trends indicate effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccinations, masking

OLYMPIA – The latest COVID-19 modeling and surveillance situation report from the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) shows case counts, hospital admissions and hospital occupancy have declined, yet these levels remain high. Hospitals across the state are operating at full capacity, and projections suggest high levels of occupancy are likely to continue through the fall months.

Report findings include:

  • Transmission rates declined in September. As of Oct. 2, the best estimate of the effective reproductive number, Re, was 0.83. Re has remained slightly below 1 since late August. The drop in Re starting at the end of July could reflect increases in preventive behaviors, such as masking in response to the surge of the delta variant. Re tells us how many new people each COVID-19 case will infect. To see cases decline, the reproductive number needs to stay well below 1.0 for a substantial amount of time.
  • COVID-19 prevalence declined in September. The current best estimate of prevalence is 0.41%, which translates to about 1 in every 244 Washingtonians having an active COVID-19 infection. This is about half the estimated prevalence reported on September 8 in last month’s report. About 36% of the population in Washington state remains susceptible to COVID-19 infection.
  • Average daily COVID-19 deaths have varied but are still high. The seven-day rolling average for deaths was between 5 and 10 deaths per day through early August, increasing to 36 as of Sept. 7, and declining slightly to 33 by Sept. 28. 
  • Hospital admissions and occupancy for COVID-19 have decreased but remain high. The seven-day rolling average of COVID-19 daily hospital admissions increased to 195 as of Aug. 29 and declined to 115 as of Oct. 8. Occupancy related to COVID-19 has declined from nearly 25% of bed capacity in early September to around 17% in early October. Despite declines in COVID-19 admissions, total hospital occupancy has remained constant at over 90% and is projected to persist through the fall.

“We’re hopeful that the declines we’ve seen in the last few weeks will continue, but that will only be possible if vaccination rates continue to increase and we continue wearing masks,” said Scott Lindquist, MD, MPH, state epidemiologist for communicable diseases. “Our individual choices over the next several weeks will determine whether hospitals are able to return to a sustainable level of operations by the end of December.”

When hospitals operate at high capacities, people may experience longer waits for urgent or emergent care, canceled surgeries or procedures, or transfers to hospitals further away from home than usual. To reduce the burden of disease on hospitals and other community resources:

  • Get vaccinated against both COVID-19 and seasonal flu. Typical surges of influenza patients could overwhelm hospitals that are already full or almost full. COVID-19 and flu vaccines can be given at the same time.
  • Wear face coverings in indoor or crowded spaces. Wearing masks reduces the spread of COVID-19 and helps reduce the likelihood of a surge of patients needing care.  
  • Get tested if you have symptoms or have been exposed. For help finding a test, including language assistance, call the state COVID-19 hotline at 1-800-525-0127.
  • Use WA Notify, a free, exposure notification tool that works on smartphones to alert users if they may have been exposed to COVID-19 without sharing personal information.

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