One Bed Short

As COVID-19 cases surge, Washington hospitals are overwhelmed beyond capacity


Art by Ava Fimmano

A year and half since the COVID-19 pandemic, Washington is still reeling from the strike of the virus.

Due to a surge in COVID-19 positive patients, Idaho activated their Crisis Standards of Care (CSC) Protocol on September 16th and are now offloading patients onto Washington hospital beds. Washington is unable to refuse these demands as long as its hospitals have space. As a result, local hospitals are shortchanged on room and unable to accommodate Washington citizens in need of care. The state is under immense pressure to avoid activating the CSC Protocol.

The CSC is a medical designation detailing a plan to be enacted during major disasters such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This protocol allows its state to pick and choose which individuals get prioritized for medical attention. Individuals with the greatest chance of survival and recovery are most likely to receive the medical care they need. Patients are chosen via the Exclusion Criteria (EC), which allows staff to withhold care from certain demographics. The criteria judges the patient’s life expectancy, recovery chances, and sometimes even their essential worker status. The aim of the EC is to save both the most lives and life-years.

Some Washington citizens are angry that they are not being prioritized as Idaho residents continue to encroach Washington hospital space. “It’s really challenging to be a state that’s doing so much to prevent COVID and to be neighboring a state that’s not, then having to essentially bear the brunt of it,” says Cassie Sauer, CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association (MyNorthWest). 

During a press conference with the MSNBC news station, Washington Governor Jay Inslee expressed annoyance at Idaho Governor Brad Little’s handling of the situation. “[I am] disappointed the governor of Idaho has spent more time trying to reduce protection by reducing vaccine usage instead of concentrating on [common sense measures], and then clogging up my hospitals,” Inslee said (MyNorthWest). Only 42% of vaccine-eligible Idaho residents are fully vaccinated, while 67% of Washington residents are fully vaccinated. Idaho Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin took it upon herself to issue an order banning mask and vaccine mandates while Little was out of the state in May 2021, citing a threat to the freedom of people. While this action was reversed by Little upon his return, Idaho has yet to impose a mask and vaccine mandate on its residents. 

With Idaho pushing transfers into Washington, facilities in the state are facing record hospitalizations as they near capacity, putting staff under the immense strain of making sure every patient is treated. On September 20th, Inslee reached out to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to requisition 1,200 workers to fill short staffed hospitals. Whether or not federal assistance will be arriving, however, is currently unclear.