Yakima County had 17,300 new COVID cases this month

Hospitalizations high at local hospitals due to 'sheer volume of cases'

YAKIMA, Wash. — 17,391 people in Yakima County tested positive for COVID-19 this month, which accounts for more than a quarter of the county’s historical total.

Health officials said nearly all of those new cases are due to the spread of the Omicron variant, which has now replaced Delta as the dominant variant in Washington State.

“The death rate is much lower than with Delta,” said Dr. Marty Brueggemann, Chief Medical Officer at Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital. “But again, the sheer volume of cases means that we’re seeing quite a few patients here in the hospital.”

The Yakima Health District reported 22 additional COVID patients hospitalized Friday, for a total of 79 across the county and a hospitalization rate of 15.5 per 100,000 people over the past two weeks.

Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital hit a record of 69 hospitalized COVID-19 patients earlier this week and is anticipating that number to continue to grow for the next several days. Brueggemann said the hospital is still seeing high numbers of regular patients as well.

“Today, we had 251 patients in the hospital, which is, —if it’s not the all-time record, it’s really close,” Brueggemann said.

The hospital is only licensed for 226 beds and staff are struggling to find room for new patients — Brueggemann said they had about 20 admitted patients in the emergency room Friday because they didn’t have anywhere else to put them.

“We only have 24 beds in our main ER and then we have an overflow area, so well over half of our ER beds right now are holding patients that are just waiting to find another place to go.” Brueggemann said.

Brueggemann said there are spaces the hospital could open up for those patients, but they don’t have enough staff to do so at this time. He said staffing is a little better now than last week, when 253 employees were out for COVID-related reasons.

“I never thought I’d say that having 190 staff members out was a good thing,” Brueggemann said. “But compared to where we were a few days ago, it’s definitely a positive trend.”

Brueggemann said another positive for the hospital this week was the addition of 11 members of the Washington National Guard, who have taken over many of the non-medical tasks in the emergency department. He said that leaves more nurses free to care for patients.

“They were stocking rooms and helping clean rooms and just kind of doing whatever they could to pitch in to be useful,” Brueggemann said. “It’s nice to know that we’ve been heard and that we’ve got the help there.”

Brueggemann said while the surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations due to the Omicron variant is stressing the health care system, those patients are often less sick than those who were hospitalized over the summer with the Delta variant.

“Delta didn’t infect as many people overall, but it was really, really a deadly variant,” Brueggemann said. “It’s by far been the deadliest variant in terms of the percentage of people that it made really sick.”

Brueggeman said with the Omicron variant infecting a large segment of the population, there’s hope for some natural immunity, “although it’s not quite as good as a vaccine.”

“I think the hope is that as we get deeper into the pandemic, hopefully more and more people will have some level of immunity either from a vaccination from a previous infection or better yet from both, which gives you kind of the best of both worlds,” Brueggemann said.

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