BELLINGHAM, WA – Due to a sudden and significant increase in COVID-19 patients, PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center is expanding its COVID bed capacity to meet the demand and asking for the community’s help in minimizing the transmission and severity of infections.
The uptick coincides with the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant, first detected in Whatcom County on Dec. 10.
“We are extremely concerned to see these numbers, and urgently ask community members to take the precautions that we know will help keep hospitalizations down,” said Dr. Sudhakar Karlapudi, chief medical officer for PeaceHealth’s Northwest network. “At the top of that list are receiving a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot if you have been vaccinated already and, of course, getting your first dose if you have so far chosen not to.”
While two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines are highly effective against the earlier strains, including delta, they have proven much less so with omicron, Dr. Karlapudi said. A booster shot, however, appears to dramatically increase protection against omicron.
“Early studies on the omicron variant are finding that it causes less severe symptoms than previous strains, which is good news,” he said. “However, the flip side is that omicron is extremely contagious, causing varying levels of illness among both the unvaccinated and vaccinated. We are preparing for the potential for a large surge in hospitalizations.”
Dr. Karlapudi noted that this preparation includes careful case-by-case review of all scheduled surgical procedures. Beginning Monday, Jan. 3, and at least through this week, a majority of cases are likely to be rescheduled to ensure adequate resources to care for the increasing number of COVID-positive patients. Affected patients will be notified.
While getting vaccine is the most effective step you can take to avoid serious illness and hospitalization, simple precautions are also important:
- Avoid any event or gathering that may attract a large number of people and where you cannot maintain a safe distance.
- If you are planning to travel or attend a gathering with people who may be unvaccinated or especially vulnerable, consider getting a COVID-19 test.
- Wear a mask whenever you are in an indoor public space or crowded outdoor area, or with people who are unvaccinated or whose vaccination status is unknown. The CDC recommends a mask made of at least two layers or more of washable, breathable fabric that completely covers your nose and mouth. The mask should also fit snugly against the sides of your face and not have gaps. The CDC also suggests having a mask with a nose wire to help you get a secure fit and prevent air from leaking out of the top of the mask.
- Maintain physical distance of at least six feet from people who are outside your immediate family or social circle.
“It is essential that our hospital maintain the capacity and resources to provide a high level of care to all patients who need it, whether they are coming to us with COVID-19, a heart attack or a traumatic injury,” Dr, Karlapudi said. “We need the community’s help to ensure we can continue to do this by protecting themselves and each other against COVID.”
About PeaceHealth: Based in Vancouver, Wash., PeaceHealth is a not-for-profit Catholic health system offering care to communities in Washington, Oregon and Alaska. In 1890, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace founded what has become PeaceHealth. PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center provides quality care for northwest Washington with its full-service 253-bed hospital and PeaceHealth Medical Group clinics. Key services in Bellingham include comprehensive cardiology, oncology, orthopedic and rehabilitation services and a joint venture outpatient imaging service.