Health workers concerned about strain from oncoming COVID-19 surge of infections

Case rates up in both Clallam, Jefferson counties

Health officials are concerned a peak season for COVID-19 could place even more strain on area healthcare systems and workers.

“Unfortunately, we are expecting to reach peak COVID-19 transmission by the end of January, which means we are going to see peak hospitalizations in February,” North Olympic Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry said.

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Both Clallam and Jefferson counties saw spikes in cases and hospitalizations over the weekend.

As of Monday, Jefferson County had a total of 1,825 cases, up 334 since Friday, with a case rate of 795 per 100,000 population.

There were five patients hospitalized, four at Jefferson Healthcare Center, two in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), and one transported to a hospital out of the county, Berry said.

At least 40 of Jefferson County’s cases stem from a COVID-19 outbreak at Olympic Corrections Center, she said.

“We’ve certainly seen COVID-19 move very quickly through some of those spaces — 40 of our most recent cases are from Olympic Corrections Center, so that does play into those numbers,” Berry said.

Representatives for Olympic Corrections Center could not be reached Monday.

Meanwhile, Clallam County’s cases increased by 576 since Friday to a total of 7,624 since the pandemic began, with a current case rate of 2,072 per 100,000.

At least 11 patients are hospitalized, 10 at Olympic Medical Center and one at a hospital in Kitsap County. Six are in the ICU, Berry said.

She reported that all are unvaccinated, and one of the patients is a child younger than 5.

“As crazy as these numbers sound right now, we anticipate that they will be worse for the next couple of weeks, and the strain on our healthcare system will be worse for even longer,” Berry said.

Area hospitals are doing their best to prepare for this surge in cases and hospitalizations as well as contend with their own staffing shortages due to COVID-19 and worker burnout, she said.

Jefferson Healthcare Hospital had six employees out Monday due to testing positive for COVID-19 and 11 employees were out but going through protocols after they had symptoms but tested negative, said Amy Yaley, director of Marketing and Communications for Jefferson Healthcare.

Jefferson Healthcare is a small, critical-access hospital, so when staff members are out, it can severely impact multiple departments and how they operate.

“We could have a department, like our intensive care unit that has two nurses scheduled per shift, that one call out decreases our staffing by 50 percent, so those small numbers can transfer to a really big impact on our ability to staff,” Chief Nursing Officer Tina Toner said.

Jefferson Healthcare has enacted its “surge plan” to help prepare hospital staff for some potential long days ahead.

“We are seeing more patients present and be admitted with COVID-19,”Toner said. “Today we have 24 patients in-house. Normally we would only ever be able to have 25 patients.

“There was a waiver put into place for critical-access hospitals to go over that limit to support the surge. We are as close as we have ever been to that number,” she said.

The surge plan will increase the number of regularly scheduled staff but also limit some services, such as surgery to those in critical need.

Olympic Medical Center reported that 124 members of its staff have been precluded from work due to COVID-19.

“Olympic Medical Center has been facing an acute staffing shortage for the past several weeks,” said Ryan Hueter, a member of the OMC communications team. “This is largely due to employee preclusions from work because of testing positive for COVID-19 or being exposed to someone else with COVID, whether at home, in the community or in the workplace.”

OMC said it had one ICU bed left in the hospital as of Monday.