Hospitals in Clatsop County have experienced an ebb in the number of patients admitted for the coronavirus.

After about the first week of August, Columbia Memorial Hospital began to see a rise in COVID-related hospitalizations, reaching a peak of 11 virus patients, Judy Geiger, the hospital’s vice president of patient care services, said at a news conference Wednesday.

Providence Seaside Hospital

Health care providers are hopeful as the number of coronavirus patients declines.

For a few weeks, the 25-bed Astoria hospital averaged between six and seven virus patients a day. Within the past few days, however, the number fell to three or four virus patients a day.

Providence Seaside Hospital saw a peak of about six virus patients, “which is a lot when you’ve got just 25 beds,” Jason Plamondon, the hospital’s chief nursing officer, said.

Providence Seaside has since been averaging three to four virus patients a day, he said, but over the past several days that number has dropped to between zero and two. “I don’t want to jinx anything. Right now things are looking good,” he said.

Geiger and Plamondon said the recent COVID patients are, on average, getting sicker than patients in the past and are requiring more specialized care.

“It takes a lot of scrambling to make sure that we’ve got a private room available for that patient, and that we’ve got the space for that patient,” Plamondon said. The hospital has to consider such factors when COVID patients arrive — “where are we going to set them up, how are we going to care for them … It takes more resources from the hospital to care for these patients.”

Geiger explained that nurses caring for COVID patients “have to put on a lot of PPE (personal protective equipment) to go into the room, then they have to take it off very carefully to come out of the room so they don’t spread any COVID. And then they have to go on to the next patient and do the same thing as they’re taking care of several COVID patients.”

Columbia Memorial is considering taking down a special COVID unit, an area of the hospital converted from a same-day surgery where virus patients are held so that infectious air would not move into the rest of the hospital. Virus patients would be sent to the hospital’s other in-patient units, “as long as we don’t get another surge of them,” Geiger said.

The surge in local virus cases over the summer, which public health leaders have attributed to the delta variant, has caused more stress on hospitals than at any time during the pandemic. Personnel from the Oregon National Guard have been assigned to Columbia Memorial and Providence Seaside to help health care providers handle the demand.

The hospitalization data is “very compelling information,” Margo Lalich, the county’s interim public health director, said. “There are different things that motivate the public and piques their attention, and this has been something that has really piqued their attention, of who’s being hospitalized and whether or not they’re vaccinated.

“We know the majority of people who are contracting COVID are unvaccinated,” Lalich continued, “although we’re seeing more and more vaccinated cases getting COVID ‘cause it’s not 100% protective. But in hospitalizations and serious illness, it’s still the unvaccinated. It is motivating people to get a dose, or that second dose, of vaccine.”

The county Public Health Department, she said, relies on local hospitals “to release that data and share it with us and so we can share it with the public, and the plan is to continue to do so as long as it’s meaningful to the community.”