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Tri-Cities hospitals treating fewer COVID patients, but staff 'exhausted and frustrated'

Tri-City Herald logo Tri-City Herald 9/30/2021 Annette Cary, Tri-City Herald (Kennewick, Wash.)

Sep. 29—The number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 treatment in Benton and Franklin counties has dropped to the lowest since early August.

However, the number of patients being treated for the disease remains high, with hospitals still stressed to treat both COVID-19 and also other patients.

"We're exhausted and frustrated — exhausted and frustrated that hospital staff are stretched to the breaking point when masking and vaccines could save people's lives," said a quote from a registered nurse posted on the Facebook page of Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland Wednesday morning.

Lourdes Health in Pasco said late last week that it was at capacity, with many patients being held in the emergency department until a bed was available for them.

On Wednesday, the number of COVID-19 patients reported by the four hospitals in the two counties dropped to 78, down from a reported high of 127 on Sept. 13, according to data from the Benton Franklin Health District.

That compares to 22 patients a year ago and 15 patients six months ago in the Richland, Kennewick, Pasco and Prosser hospitals.

Close to a third of all hospital patients earlier this month were being treated for COVID-19 and that dropped to 20% of patients Wednesday.

Fewer hospitalized COVID patients could mean fewer deaths from the disease in the coming weeks, after record numbers of COVID deaths in recent weeks.

The Benton Franklin Health District, which announces deaths on Fridays, reported 22 recent deaths caused by COVID-19 last Friday, which followed 11 to 12 recent deaths the previous two Fridays.

Those numbers do not include a backlog of 22 deaths reported recently that occurred earlier in the summer, for a total of 458 COVID-19 deaths in the Tri-Cities area since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

Tri-Cities vaccinations

The rate of COVID-19 vaccinations has picked up some in the Tri-Cities area, although the percentage of people vaccinated remains below Washington state rates.

Dr. Amy Person, health officer for Benton and Franklin counties, said on last week's Kadlec on Call podcast that at the first of the summer the percentage of residents vaccinated was increasing by about 0.5% a week and in recent weeks that has increased to 1.5% to 2% per week.

"Still small numbers but a significant change for this area and a change for the better," she said.

Statewide 74% of people eligible for the vaccine — those ages 12 and older — have received at least an initial dose of vaccine, with 67% of those eligible fully vaccinated. The data does not include a small percentage of people vaccinated through certain federal programs, including the Veterans Administration.

In Benton County, 62% of residents 12 and older have received at least an initial dose of vaccine, with nearly 55% fully vaccinated.

In Franklin County, 59% of residents eligible for the vaccine have received at least one dose, with 50% fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

A free vaccine clinic, with both flu and all three brands of COVID-19 shots available, is set for 2 to 5 p.m. Thursday at Goodwill, 3521 Court St., Pasco. No appointments are needed.

The first 50 people will receive a $50 grocery store gift card.

People who completed their two-shot series of Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago may now receive a third "booster" dose if they are 65 or older; are age 50-64 with underlying medical conditions or are 18-64 and have underlying medical conditions or are at high risk of exposure due to their job.

Tri-Cities COVID cases

The number of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 appears to have plateaued in the Tri-Cities area.

The average daily number of new cases now is about at the previous local peak of the pandemic this past winter.

The rate of new cases for Benton and Franklin counties combined as of Wednesday dropped to 921 new cases per 100,000 people over two weeks, down from a two-week rate of 967 the day before. That compares to a rate of 969 three weeks ago and 935 at the winter peak of the pandemic.

For the first five days of this week, starting with the weekend, the Benton Franklin Health District reported an average of 175 new confirmed cases per day, compared with 189 cases per day last week.

At least 49 new COVID-19 cases have been traced to the Sept. 15-18 Pendleton Round-Up in Umatilla County, Ore., a large annual rodeo with related events.

However, to date no Tri-Cites area cases have been linked to residents who attended the event.

This story was originally published September 29, 2021 12:58 PM.

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