50 workers, 9 patients test positive in COVID outbreak at Pineville hospital

PINEVILLE, N.C. — Health officials are investigating a COVID-19 outbreak at Atrium Health Pineville.

Atrium Health sent a letter to its staff Thursday saying it was researching positive COVID-19 tests among some of its employees.

According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, 50 cases have been identified in health care workers -- 35 of whom were vaccinated. So far, nine patients have tested positive.

Officials said 33 positive test specimens have been sequenced so far by the State Laboratory of Public Health -- all of which have been confirmed to be the delta variant of COVID-19.

Health officials said with support from the NCDHHS and the Mecklenburg County Health Department they will continue testing staff, patients, and household members of those who have tested positive. They are also working to understand how the disease is spreading.

Channel 9 spoke with a nurse who works at the hospital. She said the outbreak stems from the maternity floor.

“COVID is on the rise again, which includes many of the vaccinated; and hospital systems are still mandating this vaccine, so employees are quitting. If Atrium Health continues at this rate, a sentinel event will eventually occur,” she said.

Atrium Health wouldn’t confirm that the maternity floor is ground zero for the outbreak.

Mecklenburg County health officials released a chart that confirmed the cluster of cases is connected to the hospital’s maternity unit.

Dr. Katie Passaretti addressed Atrium Health employees who contracted the virus despite being vaccinated.

“We are going to continue to see vaccinated people with mild cases of COVID,” she said. “That does not mean the vaccine doesn’t work. The vaccine still protects individuals.”

That nurse also told Channel 9 the large number of cases, along with recent staffing shortages, has had a tremendous impact inside the hospital.

“As of August 6, Atrium Health Pineville is in ‘crisis mode’ during night shift. The patient ratio during nights is 1 to 8 -- that’s one nurse with eight patients. The usual ratio is about one nurse with five or six patients,” they said.

That nurse told Channel 9 that with staff members out sick and others quitting due to the vaccine mandate, a serious incident could happen at the hospital.

The highly contagious delta variant is spreading rapidly in North Carolina -- particularly among those that are unvaccinated. NCDHHS said COVID-19 cases have increased by more than 50% in the past seven days, hospitalizations have more than doubled over the past two weeks and the number of people going to the emergency department with COVID-like symptoms is rising.

(WATCH: COVID-19 Delta variant: What you need to know)