A proclamation by Gov. Jay Inslee will temporarily halt non-urgent surgeries and other medical procedures as hospitals in Washington state continue to struggle with an increase in patients who have tested positive for COVID-19.
The executive order takes effect Monday and will run for one month unless Inslee rescinds it sooner. This is the third time since the pandemic began in March of 2020 that the governor has taken such an action.
The order defines non-urgent health care services as those that, if delayed, are not expected to cause harm to the patient within 90 days.
Exceptions can be made when considering the patient’s health if the delay would cause advancement of a disease, the person would have an increased loss of function, the delay would lead to a more complex future surgery or treatment or there is a continuing or worsening of severe pain.
Washington averaged 226 new hospitalizations due to coronavirus per day last week and hospital officials are asking people not to go to emergency rooms unless there is a life-threatening condition involved.
The Washington State Department of Health said that is up from an average of 70 new hospitalizations per day a month ago. Overall, 48,862 people have been hospitalized.
Of the more than 2,130 people hospitalized with COVID-19, 163 are on ventilators, compared to 115 at the end of December.
The DOH said the state is averaging 13,000 positive tests per day, about four times the amount last fall when a spike was caused by the delta variant.
The state has now had 1,041,456 cases and 10,196 deaths.
Inslee has also asked the Washington State National Guard to deploy 100 non-clinical personnel to hospitals in Everett, Yakima, Wenatchee and Spokane to assist with non-medical tasks to alleviate the crowded situations in those emergency departments.
Additional National Guard members will be deployed to hospitals in Tacoma, Olympia, Richland and Seattle to set up mobile testing sites in parking lots.
Inslee is also asking retired medical personnel to return to the workforce to assist with testing and vaccinations.
Experts believe the numbers will get worse. Dr. Keith Jerome, head of the virology department at the University of Washington Medical School, told KIRO Radio that he does not think the omicron variant has peaked.
“We’re not getting as many cases still as some parts of the country,” he said. “Our positivity rates are as high as they’ve ever been, and most of those have been Omicron. So let’s hope that peak comes soon, but we’re not there yet.”