Health officials in D.C. are continuing to ask the public to not visit the hospital if they need a COVID-19 test or if they have mild symptoms. It’s adding stress onto a health system that’s starting to see an uptick in capacity as well as staffing shortages.
“We’re seeing a lot of individuals that present to the ER, simply not knowing what to do if they get COVID,” said Patrick Ashley, a senior deputy at DC Health.
“The reality is many of them don’t need to be in the hospital, they don’t need to present to the ER, they don’t need to call 911. They don’t need an ambulance to show up to the house, they just need to stay home.”
In addition to asking residents with mild symptoms to stay home, Mayor Muriel Bowser and Ashley told residents at a press briefing Thursday to stay away from the hospital when they want a COVID test and to continue to visit testing sites at fire stations and libraries all over D.C.
“We do hand out about 20,000 of them every day, PCR kits and rapid antigen kits,” Ashley said. they were limiting the number of tests that each resident could get at a time.
“We don’t want individuals picking up 5,10, 15 of the kits and not leaving any of them for their neighbors,” he said.
While hospital capacity is always a concern during the pandemic, Ashley told reporters that hospitals were only at 84% capacity earlier this week, which is a slight uptick since the holidays, but is hardly abnormal over the course of the pandemic.
“We also see that there’s a significant volume of COVID patients in the hospital,” Ashley said.
In a Wednesday letter to Wayne Turnage, deputy mayor for Health and Human Services, D.C. Hospitals Association President and CEO Jacqueline Bowens said that “the impact on health care is currently greater than at any time in the pandemic given the significant community spread and resulting increase in the number of patients requiring admission.”
And, she asked that a new public health emergency be declared.
Among the things requested are “authorizing the use of Crisis Standards of Care as determined by each facility’s emergency operations plan; authorization to utilize Crisis Standards of Care in select facility operations for short periods of time to ensure resource alignment with patient needs”; and continuing “interstate licensure reciprocity through waiver of licensure requirements and permit facilities to implement emergency credentialing when appropriate.”
Bowens said getting more health care providers “will help to ensure continued access to care for patients and to enable health care facilities to maintain continuity of operations given ongoing workforce staffing shortages within facilities” during staffing issues.
As of Jan. 5, D.C. hospitals had 640 patients with COVID; 84 patients with COVID-19 are in the ICU. It’s not clear how many were hospitalized because of the virus and how many tested positive after they were already admitted for a different reason.
Some good news amid the omicron wave is the low percentage of COVID-19 cases that end up in the hospital. As of Jan. 3, 5.2% of cases were hospitalized. In the first months of the pandemic over 30% of cases were hospitalized.
Ashley and the mayor continued to stress the importance of vaccinations during the briefing.
“The people that are ending up in the ICUs and ending up dying, or the people that are unvaccinated. We are not seeing vaccinated people ending up in the ICU or dying.”
Right now the District is seeing about 2 deaths a day.
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WTOP’s Will Vitka contributed to this report.