Local News

COVID patients in NC hospitals double in month

Posted December 15, 2020 3:43 p.m. EST
Updated December 15, 2020 6:04 p.m. EST

— After ending a two-week string of daily records regarding the number of people being treated for COVID-19 in North Carolina on Monday, the state reached a new all-time high on Tuesday.

The 2,735 patients reported Tuesday means that more than 15 percent of all hospital patients statewide have tested positive for coronavirus. A record 643 of them are in intensive care units, meaning nearly a quarter of the ICU beds in the state are filled with COVID-19 patients.

"Too many North Carolinians are getting seriously ill," said Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, noting that the number of COVID-19 patients in North Carolina has doubled since mid-November.

"I know we’re all getting so numb to these numbers, so I'm asking you to take a moment to think about who these people are. They're our neighbors, our friends, our family members – they’re people we love," Cohen said. "I know no one wants this for our state."

Cohen and Gov. Roy Cooper said the surge in the virus – North Carolina also recorded another 5,236 new infections on Tuesday, marking the sixth time in the past week the daily total topped 5,000 – was expected after people traveled and had family gatherings for Thanksgiving.

They said the numbers could be even worse following Hanukkah, Christmas and other holiday celebrations in the coming weeks, and Cooper again urged people to forgo traditional get-togethers and choose instead to call loved ones on the phone or chat online.

"If you must [travel], it’s essential you get tested, wear a mask, keep it small and keep it outdoors," he said.

DHHS is setting up 300 no-cost, walk-up or drive-thru testing events across the state over the next two weeks to help with the pre-holiday tests. Some Agri Supply, Carlie C’s IGA, Home Depot, Piggly Wiggly and Wegman’s stores have agreed to offer testing in their parking lots on Dec. 18-20 and Dec. 26-27 in Wake, Durham, Harnett, Lee and three other counties.

Testing and continued precautions are necessary, even as the first shipment of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine arrives at dozens of hospitals statewide this week, Cooper said.

"The numbers are too high for the vaccine to turn this around," he said.

North Carolina officials won't know until Friday how many doses of the vaccine the state will receive next week, which makes planning for distribution more difficult.

"It's not enough time to allow the state and providers to plan for appropriate allocation or to coordinate vaccine schedules for staff," Cohen said, noting that hospitals are trying to juggle which staffers get vaccinated when.

Cooper said he asked Vice President Mike Pence and Gen. Gustave Perna, who is overseeing vaccine distribution for Operation Warp Speed, to announce the state allocations earlier so North Carolina and other states have more time to determine where various shipments need to go.

The distribution could become even more complex if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves a second vaccine, made by Moderna, later this week.

Cooper said North Carolina could receive 175,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine next week, with half of that allotment reserved for residents and staff at long-term care facilities. Walgreens and CVS have contracted with the federal government to handle those vaccinations.

Cohen said officials hope to have some vaccine in all 100 counties statewide by the end of next week, but because officials don't know yet how much Pfizer vaccine to expect, it's impossible to say how much.

Both vaccines require two shots – the shots must be taken three weeks apart with the Pfizer vaccine and four weeks apart with Moderna – and Cohen said the government will ship the same number of Pfizer doses in two weeks to each hospital getting shipments this week so they're ready to give the second shot to the health care workers being vaccinated this week.