Health leaders worried about COVID hospitalizations in Charlotte area

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — North Carolina’s top health official says she’s concerned about COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Charlotte area.

On Thursday, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported hospitalizations over 1,000 for the first time since the start of the pandemic -- meaning the state has reached another new record high in that metric.

The health department reported that 1,034 people were in the hospital with COVID-19, with 86% of hospitals reporting. That’s up 40 from Wednesday.

As the number of people being admitted with COVID-19 continues to trend up, NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said health officials are closely monitoring hospitals in the Charlotte area.

Cohen said there is no need to intervene at this point because local hospitals currently have the capacity to handle the influx, but if the state does not slow the spread of the virus now, that could change quickly.

She did say that our local healthcare workers are doing a good job balancing the increase.

According to Cohen, hospitalizations are a good indicator of what’s going on in the community, but that it is lagging. She said the people who are going to the hospital today were most likely infected days or weeks ago.

Breakdown of COVID-19 trends:

  • People showing up to emergency room with COVID-19 symptoms: Increasing (early warning indicator)
  • New cases: Increasing
  • Percentage of positive tests: Remains elevated (sitting at 8%-10% but leaders want it closer to 5%)
  • Hospitalizations: Increasing

A more timely indicator is the number of people coming to the emergency room with COVID-like symptoms. The current data suggests cases are increasing, so that will impact hospitals in a couple weeks.

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“We don’t want to be in a position where we are nearing our ICU capacity, and we want to avoid a position where hospitals are forced to postpone procedures or other non COVID-related care,” Cohen said.

Mecklenburg County has, by far, the most cases of COVID-19 in the state -- with 13,757 lab-confirmed cases. Over the last month, hospitalizations have increased by 75%.

There were 177 COVID-19 patients in Mecklenburg County hospitals as of Sunday.

Atrium and Novant were at 80% capacity, and there were 400 ventilators available.

County Manager Dena Diorio said hospitals are in much better shape now than they were when the pandemic started:

  • Doctors know more about coronavirus
  • How to treat patients
  • How to create space in their hospitals

County Health Director Gibbie Harris said the numbers are expected to continue to rise.

The governor asked for people to not let their guard down.

“It’s good we still have hospital and ICU bed capacity but what we know is this, the disease continues to spread and although North Carolina is not a surging hot spot like other places, we could be if we don’t stay strong in this fight,” Gov. Roy Cooper said.

Earlier this week, the county issued a mask mandate requiring residents to wear face coverings when they are out in public.

“While, we in North Carolina, are not in dire straits, like some around us, we have reason to be concerned and have to be vigilant in slowing the spread,” Cohen said.

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