Local News

NC hits new one-day high in coronavirus deaths

Posted October 20, 2020 3:30 p.m. EDT
Updated October 21, 2020 8:14 a.m. EDT

— With three days left until North Carolina's current restrictions to limit the spread of coronavirus expire, the state's trend lines related to the virus continue to look troubling.

Fifty-three virus-related deaths were reported statewide on Tuesday, marking the highest one-day total during the pandemic. Meanwhile, 1,203 people are hospitalized across the state with COVID-19, which is the second-highest one-day figure to date.

Only three previous times since the pandemic began in North Carolina in early March have 50 or more deaths been reported on a single day, and all three of those were in September. Although the number of new infections peaked in July, the number of deaths at that time never went above 42 on any one day.

The rolling, seven-day average of coronavirus deaths in North Carolina is now up to 25 per day, after dropping as low as 19 per day on Oct. 10. A total of 3,992 people have died in the state during the pandemic.

Another 1,578 coronavirus infections were reported statewide on Tuesday, bringing the total to 248,750 during the pandemic. But an estimated 88 percent of those people are presumed to have recovered.

The rolling, seven-day average of new cases remains above 2,000 per day for the third consecutive day, at 2,038. The only other time the average has been that high was a four-day period in mid-July.

"Recent data suggest that smaller, more intimate gatherings of family, friends and neighbors are driving infection, especially as activities move indoors and adherence to face covering and social distancing wanes," a White House Coronavirus Task Force report states.

Dr. Linda Butler, chief medical officer at UNC Rex Healthcare in Raleigh, said she's not surprised by the spiking numbers.

"I think you could expect it as people get weary of being isolated at home," Butler said.

The pandemic means booming businessat American Family Urgent Care in Fuquay-Varina.

"We’ve doubled our staff in just the time that we’ve opened three weeks ago because the demand is so high right now," physician assistant Bailey Wiggins said.

Butler said UNC Health's predictive model shows trends continuing to get worse for North Carolina further into the fall.

"It does show that we may have a peak in hospitalized cases over the next eight weeks or so," she said. "We are in a good place with the equipment, [but] I think our staff are tired because this pandemic has been going on for quite some time."

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has topped 1,000 every day for the last two weeks. Tuesday was only the third time during the pandemic when the number was above 1,200.

Demographic details provided by the state Department of Health and Human Services shows that more than three-quarters of the 150 people admitted to hospitals on Tuesday were age 50 or older, and a slight majority were men.

The percentage of positive coronavirus tests statewide was 7.4 percent on Tuesday, which is the highest level in more than two weeks. According to the White House Coronavirus Task Force, positive results are increasing the fastest in rural counties.

Robeson County has the second-highest rate of positive tests in North Carolina, trailing only Duplin County, which frustrates Dr. Robin Peace, a family physician in Robeson County.

"We're getting complacent, unfortunately, and the virus is winning," Peace said. "We need to do the work because our children are suffering. We're suffering as a community, and I've always been afraid that our hospital system might be overwhelmed."

Gov. Roy Cooper eased some of the state's pandemic-related restrictions on Oct. 2, allowing bars to start serving a limited number of people outdoors and event venues to reopen at limited capacity. But his executive order expires at 5 p.m. Friday, and he said last week that state health officials would be monitoring trends to make a decision this week on how to proceed after Friday.

Cooper is expected to discuss those issues during a Wednesday afternoon briefing.

WRAL anchor/reporter Lena Tillett and WRAL Statehouse Reporter Travis Fain contributed to this report.