’We’ve got to keep our guard up’: As virus cases surge statewide, local health officials urge precautions

Rising COVID case count in Cape Fear region
Updated: Dec. 7, 2020 at 6:56 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - After North Carolina saw a record-setting weekend of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, officials at New Hanover Regional Medical Center are urging the public to stay strong on virus precautions like masking and social distancing.

Last week, NHRMC saw its average daily number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized climb to 46, the highest it’s been since monitoring the metric began.

And Chief Clinical Officer Dr. West Paul said the numbers causing leaders to consider what restrictions need to be revisited likely do not include cases directly associated with the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

“If people just caught COVID, or contracted COVID over the Thanksgiving holidays, we’re still not quite on that time to see those people being hospitalized,” he said. “So we’re hoping it won’t be nearly as much but we will see as we go forward.”

Paul emphasized the need to continue aggressive use of masks and adherence to social distancing guidelines.

“I’ll be the first person to say I’m tired of this,” Paul said. But he added: “It would be somewhat unfortunate if now that we see the light at the end of the tunnel...we’re seeing the, you know, the vaccine come...that we let down our guard. We’ve got to keep our guard up.”

Paul said he expects NHRMC to receive doses of the vaccine within the month.

The hospital system was not one of the 11 systems that will stage the vaccine or receive early shipments of the vaccine ahead of the FDA’s vote, but the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said dozens more hospitals will get the vaccine within the first week, they just won’t store it ahead of time.

Paul said NHRMC is ready whenever it does arrive.

“We’ve already made plans here to distribute the vaccine, when we get it, to our front-line health care workers—again, to protect them first,” he said. “If we lose our staff, all the space and stuff and PPE in the world are not going to make any difference. We have to protect our staff.”

Still, the vaccine arriving doesn’t mean the virus will disappear over night, he said; so, keeping up precautions is still vital.

“The vaccine is, again, the light at the end of the tunnel. It will not stop this surge. This surge will occur over the next two to four to six to 12 weeks—the vaccine will not stop this surge, or will not stop COVID for probably many months to come.”

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