Rising COVID cases putting Cleveland County ‘in a crisis,’ health leaders say

CLEVELAND COUNTY, N.C. — Cleveland County leaders wanted residents to hear it straight.

They held a news conference on Monday featuring the Cleveland County health director and a doctor from Atrium Health Cleveland to describe the current COVID-19 trends in the county.

“As we heard from medical experts, Cleveland County is in a crisis,” Commissioner Doug Bridges said. “It’s not to tell anyone what to do but rather to educate our citizens on the reality of what is happening with our medical system in Cleveland County.”

According to Dr. Inga Kish of Atrium Health Cleveland, 40% of beds at Atrium Health Cleveland are occupied with COVID-19 patients. Health leaders have started admitting COVID-19 patients to the hospital in Kings Mountain to clear space.

At times, the ER is filled with COVID-19 patients waiting for beds.

[PAST COVERAGE: First COVID death in 7 weeks reported in Cleveland County as cases spike]

“We have patients waiting to be admitted -- patients in stretchers in the hallway, in chairs. We are looking at additional opportunities every day to create more space for residents so we can take care of them in the manner they deserve,” Kish said.

Atrium Health Cleveland is putting two patients together in ICU rooms in some instances. The hospitals are so full that, at times, patients must divert to nearby health care facilities where they can be treated faster. Officials said there are some calls that will never be diverted, including calls related to heart attacks, strokes and other traumatic incidents.

“For less critical patients, we do have to decompress a bit and have EMS divert those patients or redistribute those patients to another facility,” Kish said.

From last week to this week, Atrium Health Cleveland did see at least one metric improve. Last week, 90% of patients in the ICU were in there for COVID-19. This week, that number decreased to 40%.

[Total US COVID-19 deaths on par with Spanish flu pandemic]

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported declining cases statewide for three days in a row. Monday’s data showed more than 3,200 new cases, which is the lowest since Aug. 10. And the first time in three weeks, ICU numbers have fallen below 900.

Dr. Adia Ross of Duke Regional Hospital is hopeful things are starting to turn around.

“I am cautiously optimistic,” Ross said. “I think the next week or two will let us know if we really are.”

While trends are starting to improve, officials said the delta variant’s impact is still strong. Nearly 40 people have died from COVID-19 over the past five weeks in Cleveland County.

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“It is devastating every time,” Kish said. “Every time we have to let a family member know that their loved one has died for whatever reason, it is hard.”

(Watch the video below: Cleveland County Fair canceled over COVID-19 concerns)