FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- Like other healthcare systems in central North Carolina, Cape Fear Valley Health is seeing younger COVID-19 patients than earlier in the pandemic, with stark differences between vaccinated and unvaccinated patients.
"Between Aug. 1 and Aug. 30, 85% of the patients admitted with COVID-19 were unvaccinated or partially vaccinated. Approximately 90% to 95% of the patients with COVID-19 that required ICU care were/are unvaccinated. Most of the patients requiring intubation and ICU care unfortunately are not surviving," said Dr. Samuel Fleishman, Chief Medical Officer for Cape Fear Valley Health.
A health system spokesperson added that the average vaccinated patient is 64 years old, while the average unvaccinated patient is 53 years old. Vaccination status also has played a role in length of stay and severity of symptoms; on average, unvaccinated patients are requiring about seven days of hospitalization while vaccinated patients require about two days of hospitalization.
Like other areas of the state, Cape Fear Valley has seen a stark rise in patients during the past few months.
"Today, there are 127 COVID-19 positive inpatients at the Medical Center. In May and June, the numbers had moved down to 20s to 30s and got as low as 17 in late June and then began increasing with the current surge," Fleishman said.
At the beginning of August, there were about 75 COVID-19 patients, a number which nearly doubled to 147 by mid-August.
"I think mostly I feel sad because these are hospitalizations and deaths that are largely preventable. Our partners at the hospital are stretched thin. Our nurses and providers and management support team here at the Health Department are stretched thin. And every time we get death notification, it really feels heartbreaking, because most of the individuals were not yet vaccinated," said Dr. Jennifer Green, Cumberland County's Public Health Director.
Green noted that there has been a recent increase in vaccinations, which she said she believes is because of a combination of factors, including the severity of the Delta variant, FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine, and vaccination mandates. Still, she says there's more work to be done.
"We haven't seen as big of an increase as we'd like to. We'd like to see full vaccination clinics again, and we're not there yet. So while we're pleased with the progress, we'd like to see more people coming out," Green said.
Ahead of the Labor Day weekend, Green is encouraging people to approach festivities with caution.
"The CDC has recommended not to (travel) if you're unvaccinated. If you do travel, we want you to consider getting tested before you leave. So, you can utilize an at-home test kit, you can pick that up from the (Cumberland County) Health Department Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Don't travel if you're symptomatic. Keep those gatherings to households that are also vaccinated, and if you're going to be around people who are unvaccinated, wear that mask especially when you are indoors. The good news about Labor Day is it's pretty warm, so we'd encourage you, if you do travel to consider those outdoor activities. They're lower risk than those indoor activities," said Green.
The increase in patients at hospitals has created a strain on staff and resources, affecting even those who seek care for other reasons.
"We are daily having to review and evaluate our available beds and scheduled procedures," Fleishman said about reductions to elective procedures.
Green noted that wait times could be longer than usual, as doctors urge people to seek appropriate medical care when required.