The number of COVID-19 patients in Washington Health System Washington Hospital and WHS Greene on Thursday nearly reached the number of patients hospitalized last November, when the health system treated the highest number of patients suffering from the coronavirus during the pandemic.

In November, the health system reached its highest peak, with 58 COVID patients in its two hospitals. As of Thursday, the hospitals were treating 54 patients with COVID – 48 at Washington Hospital and six at WHS Greene, according to WHS CEO Brook Ward.

Ward said 83% of those patients are not vaccinated, and that they have been much sicker than patients who had received the vaccine.

“It’s concerning that we’re almost at the peak we were last year,” said Ward in a monthly video update. “But our silver lining is that we have a fair amount of people who have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine injection, first and second shots, and I think that’s helped keep these numbers low. If not for that, I’m sure we’d have a much worse situation than we have now, so I want to thank all of those individuals who got vaccinated to help keep these numbers low.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, more than 95% of counties in the United States are experiencing high rates of COVID infection, including Washington and Greene counties.

Over the last week, the positivity rate is 10.72%, and in Greene, it’s nearly 9%.

Ward said the positivity rate at WHS testing sites is 14.8%, likely because people who visit the health system site are experiencing COVID symptoms.

People who are seeking testing to return to school or work, or to travel, are driving the positivity rate down, Ward said.

“But if you take those people out, who are driving the rate lower, we have a high incident rate in our community, and that’s concerning,” he said.

The COVID-19 vaccines are keeping people safer, Ward said.

Ward also said the health system has experienced an increase in the number of people who are visiting the emergency department, which is resulting in delays.

He asked people to avoid the emergency department for non-emergencies, or if they are seeking a COVID-19 test.

Ward also said WHS, like other hospitals and other industries, has been impacted by staffing shortages, but that it has not impacted care.

“But we are being deliberate about what we schedule, particularly with surgery and other things,” said Ward.

He encouraged people to visit the health system website at whs.org/careers for job positions.

WHS is offering the Pfizer booster vaccine, recommended by the CDC for people 65 and older, those between the ages of 50 and 64 or 18 to 49 with an underlying medical condition, or those who are between 18 and 64 whose occupation places them in additional risk of COVID-19, at its walk-in clinics.

The booster vaccine is available at WHS on Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Thursdays from noon to 6 p.m., and at WHS Greene on Wednesdays from 8 a.m. to noon.

Said Ward, “Please do it; millions of doses have been give out worldwide ... it protects you and your loved ones.”

In other news, Ward noted that October marks two significant events: Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

One in every 4 women and 1 in every 7 men are impacted at least once in their lifetime by domestic violence. Anyone experiencing domestic violence or who knows someone who finds themselves in a domestic violence can call the Domestic Violence Services of Southwestern Pennsylvania hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 1-800-791-4000.

It also is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and women should get an annual mammogram. WHS vice president of clinical operations Terry Wiltrout is participating in the Real Men Wear Pink campaign to raise awareness.

And Oct. 23 is the 20th annual National Prescription Take-Back program. People can drop off old, used and unwanted prescription drugs at Washington Hospital between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

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