In the wake of the highly contagious delta variant, the number of COVID-19 patients is on the rise in Spokane’s local hospitals.
A year and a half into the pandemic, Providence hospitals in Spokane are facing hospitalization rates higher than the winter 2020 surge, straining critical resources such as ventilators and intensive care unit beds. Other local hospitals aren't fairing much better.
“I think it’s the first time that we’ve been so strapped that I really feel the limitations of our ICU beds,” said registered nurse Lexie Schierman, a Gonzaga alumna who has been treating COVID-19 patients in Spokane since the beginning of the pandemic. “There are only so many ventilators and there are only so many ICU beds.”
When the number of critical patients exceeds resources, hospital staff face ethical decisions in determining who gets the last ventilator or the last bed in the ICU, Schierman said. This situation is exacerbated when there is a surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations, a number of them requiring treatment in the ICU.
According to the Spokane Regional Health District, there are currently 214 COVID hospitalizations in Spokane County. State-wide, 84% of COVID hospitalizations are among unvaccinated individuals, per the Washington Department of Health Dashboard.
“Ultimately, I would encourage vaccinations,” Schierman said. “Ideally, we want to prevent severe illness and the risks that come with it.”
The surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations has forced Providence to halt elective surgeries in order to free up beds and hospital personnel.
Hospital visitor policy at Providence and other hospitals has also been impacted by the surge. All non-COVID-19 inpatients are allowed one visitor per day at Providence.
For kids hospitalized with COVID-19, only one parent is allowed inside the hospital room. For adult COVID-19 patients, no visitors are allowed until the end of life.
“In my rotations in this last year and a half, I’ve seen a lot of people going towards the end of their life, and they’re only allowed x-amount of visitors,” said Phoebe Tang, a senior GU nursing student doing her clinic rotation at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center. “There’s kids that are attached to their parents, and they’ll have only [their] mom or dad by the bedside, and they’re asking for the other parent. Watching that has been really hard.”
Tang is among a cohort of GU nursing students that have never known clinical rotations without COVID-19. She described her rotations during the pandemic as the new normal.
“I think all the nursing students have been very intentional about their actions outside of the hospital because we do have a lot of responsibility riding on us,” Tang said. “All of us have just been very contentious over the past year and a half.”
The duration of the pandemic, coupled with the demands of the recent surge, is taking a toll on hospital personnel.
For Schierman, her second week as a nurse was the first week of the pandemic. She has been caring for COVID-19 patients for a year and a half now, working 16-hour shifts.
“There’s definitely an underlying exhaustion,” Schierman said. “Everyone is bringing their best mentally, physically and emotionally, and we’re 18 months in. It’s an honor to care for our community in this way, and it also comes with grief.”
Schierman has relied on her team members, which she said has operated as a family since the beginning of the first wave. Now, with COVID-19 numbers on the rise again, her team is facing resource limitations on top of burn out.
“For our health care teams, a spike in COVID numbers on a chart translates into names we’ve known and faces of the people we’ve cared for," Schierman said. "It’s people, not just statistics."
With the more contagious delta variant, more people in their 20s are contracting COVID-19, according to Schierman. She said she believes this is increasing awareness among the public and prompting more preventative measures, such as vaccination and masking.
In the GU community, President Thayne McCulloh announced in June that the university would require students to submit proof of COVID-19 vaccination. GU also reinstated its mask policy prior to the start of the fall 2021 semester.
According to the Gonzaga COVID-19 Dashboard, 92% of the GU community is fully vaccinated against the virus. There are currently 18 known COVID-19 positive cases.
“As a Gonzaga student, we talk a lot about care for the vulnerable and the Jesuit values that we have," Tang said. “And I think especially going to school in the Logan Neighborhood where we do have a lot of social justice issues with the people in our area, you do just have to be very, very careful about the way you carry yourself as a Gonzaga student and especially as a Gonzaga nursing student. I think it’s important for Gonzaga students to know that this pandemic is really far from over.”