Hospitals juggling COVID surge during nurse shortage, ICU crunch

Published: Aug. 12, 2021 at 5:47 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - It’s the last thing any of us wanted to see, but the number of people being hospitalized with COVID here is way up. At New Hanover Regional Medical Center (NHRMC), they have roughly 75% of the COVID patient volume that they saw during the December/January spike. At Novant - Brunswick, there are currently more people in the hospital now than there were during the winter COVID surge.

To manage the spike in patient volume, the hospital has started limiting elective surgeries again. They are also asking people without acute COVID symptoms not to come to the hospital to be tested, to free up room for people who are extremely ill. Instead, they are directing asymptomatic patients who fear they may be infected to visit a local urgent care clinic or pharmacy to be tested.

New Hanover Regional is seeing backups in the Emergency Room right now. Other hospitals in our region are having to divert patients elsewhere because they’ve gotten so busy. In addition to COVID patients, there’s been a surge in people sick with unrelated medical problems that they sometimes did not address sooner because they were trying to avoid medical facilities during the pandemic.

More than 90 percent of their COVID patients are unvaccinated. Doctors have seen a handful of breakthrough cases where vaccinated people wound up in the hospital, but they are the exception and they tend to have underlying conditions.

“Mainly in the breakthrough populations we are seeing at risk populations. Particularly those who are immuno suppressed. Those that may be on dialysis or have chronic renal disease. And chronic diseases, very much like we see in most of COVID, that they are the most at risk of developing severe medical complications and be hospitalized,” said New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s Dr. West Paul

In December and January, the average age of a hospitalized COVID patient at NHRMC was 64. The average age now is a patient in their 40s. There are also some school aged children who are too young to be vaccinated who are hospitalized with the virus.

Most of the new cases are linked to the highly contagious Delta variant.

“As regard to does [the Delta variant] make you sicker, the jury is probably still out on that. Anecdotally, we are seeing people - whether they are waiting a long time to come in, or it’s a different demographic - actually being sicker right now. The acuity of illness we see in our COVID population is greater than we saw previously,” Paul added.

Some are wondering if they are going to need a 3rd shot to protect themselves against COVID. Dr. Paul is expecting the FDA and CDC to make a decision about that any day now, but he predicts it will only be recommended for people who are elderly or have underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk. He says a “booster shot” designed specifically to combat the Delta variant is in development now, and could be ready later this fall.

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