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caption: In this Aug. 31, 2021, file photo, Jack Kingsley R.N. attends to a COVID-19 patient in the Medical Intensive care unit (MICU) at St. Luke's Boise Medical Center in Boise, Idaho. Idaho's public health leaders have expanded health care rationing statewide amid a massive increase in the number of coronavirus patients requiring hospitalization.
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In this Aug. 31, 2021, file photo, Jack Kingsley R.N. attends to a COVID-19 patient in the Medical Intensive care unit (MICU) at St. Luke's Boise Medical Center in Boise, Idaho. Idaho's public health leaders have expanded health care rationing statewide amid a massive increase in the number of coronavirus patients requiring hospitalization.
Credit: (AP Photo/Kyle Green, File)

Hospitals remain under strain as omicron surges in eastern Washington, Idaho

Several indicators point to the slowing spread of omicron across western Washington in recent weeks. The rate of increase for new Covid cases and hospitalizations is dropping in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties.

But the outlook is much different in eastern Washington, where omicron is still surging. Hospitalizations there have roughly doubled within two weeks.

Moreover, hospitals in eastern Washington face the prospect of caring for patients from southern Idaho, where crisis standards of care were declared on Monday.

“Any patient who comes to the emergency department must be screened and stabilized – it's a federal law requirement,” said Taya Briley, vice president and general counsel for the Washington State Hospital Association on Tuesday. “And as a result, if an individual from Idaho presents on their own to a Washington emergency department, they cannot be turned away. So we are certain that crisis standards will spread north.”

Jeannie Eylar, chief nursing officer at Pullman Regional Hospital, said her facility is already being impacted.

"Our house supervisors are getting about three to five calls a day from other hospitals in Idaho or Washington, because they're looking for a bed," Eylar said.

Hospitals in western Washington must also brace for the possibility of caring for patients outside of their localities, from the eastern side of the state, Briley said.

Across Washington state, hospitals cared for an average of 2,300 Covid patients each day during the past week; approximately 260 new hospitalizations emerged each day last week.

Hospitals are also seeing significant Covid impacts on health care workers, directly.

"Last week was an extremely rough week for all those in our state who needed access to life saving hospital care," Briley said. "Hospitalizations were trending up and staff continued to call out sick because they had either contracted Covid or they were having to isolate due to exposure. Each day we have been seen an average of 800 to 850 new Covid cases among our caregivers."

Washington state hospitals, although strained, are not currently operating under crisis standards of care — that would have to be activated at the state level. But many have taken it upon themselves to function using contingency models, Briley said.

For example, many health care workers have begun to conserve N95 masks by discarding them at the end of their shift, rather than after each patient interaction.