Mirroring the recent rise in COVID-19 cases in the region, local hospitals also are seeing an uptick in patients, mostly unvaccinated, who are being admitted because of the virus.
The number of area hospitalized patients is nearing or exceeding the levels seen during the previous spike in the winter. During those months, COVID-19 vaccine doses were not yet widely available, and the more contagious delta variant was not yet circulating.
After several quieter months, providers now are treating more COVID patients and adjusting other hospital operations to accommodate the latest surge.
“Over the past four to five weeks we’ve had rather a dramatic increase in our COVID hospitalizations both in the critical care unit and on the floor with regular patients. That not only includes New Hanover Regional Medical Center, but Novant Health in Brunswick also has seen the same rapid rise of COVID-19 infections,” West Paul, senior vice president and chief clinical officer for Novant Health Coastal market, said during a media briefing Thursday.
|Recent weeks of increasing counts
|Avg. daily # of COVID-19 patients
“We’re about 75% of what we saw in the December, January timeframe with regard to COVID patients in-house,” Paul said. “And actually, our Novant Brunswick facility is even higher than they saw in this surge in December and January."
As a result, much of the hospital’s critical care units are filling up. At Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center, elective surgeries are once again on pause – as many hospitals did in the early months of the pandemic – and post-anesthesia care units are instead being used for COVID patients.
New Hanover Regional, Paul said, also has postponed surgeries that can wait for more than two weeks because of the increase in COVID patients.
“We know as we impact our ICUs, we impact our ability to do surgeries,” he said. “So we continue to do emergent surgeries and procedures, but we have curtailed or cut back dramatically on a lot of our nonurgent surgeries to maintain not only that space availability in our intensive care units but also our staff. Staff are always a concern. We’ve been at this a long time now … almost two years now, so staff are fatigued, and we really do have to make sure we can cut down our volumes in a way that’s safe but also that can maintain the care of our patients.”
Emergency departments, he said, also have become busier recently with non-COVID patients, adding another source of strain on resources. When it comes to the hospitals’ COVID patient mix, they are younger than during the winter spike. The average age at Novant facilities last time was in the mid-60s; the average age now for patients is in the 40s.
“About 90% of our patients are unvaccinated,” Paul said. “We have seen some patients that are vaccinated; they tend to be less ill and not in our critical care units. We are seeing some of the breakthrough infections in our population but a very small number.”
The hospitals are not seeing a large number of hospitalized children but more than providers saw admitted during the early phase of the pandemic, Paul said.
Along with the increase in hospitalized COVID patients, the number of people who have died recently also has increased.
“In July, we were celebrating that that we went for a time of almost eight weeks and did not have a single COVID death,” Paul said. “That has stopped. We have begun seeing those deaths come again as our population has come up.”
About 2,300 people have been hospitalized at NHRMC for COVID-19 since the pandemic started, according to a dashboard for the hospital
, which serves seven area counties. During that time, 335 people have died while hospitalized.
Click here for last week's BizTalk podcast with NHC Health Director David Howard on current cases in the region and what public health officials are seeing with the delta variant.