North Carolina hospitals brace for growing impact from COVID-19 cases

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Last week, North Carolina saw record COVID-19 hospitalizations, with at least 3,992 patients battling COVID-19 statewide last Wednesday. But those hospitalizations didn't affect all parts of the state equally.

An analysis of the latest data from the US Department of Health and Human Services shows more COVID-19 patients occupied beds in Triangle hospitals last week than they did a month ago.

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At Duke University Hospital in Durham, 82 COVID-19 patients were admitted to the hospital between January 8 and January 14. That week, 98% of the hospital's 740 adult inpatient beds were occupied on average each day, an increase from 93% the week before. According to the data, an average of 113 adult COVID-19 patients occupied those beds each day, meaning COVID-19 patients occupied 16% of all inpatient beds, up from 10% a month ago.

But when looking specifically at intensive care unit beds, the numbers are even scarier. According to the federal data, no beds were available at Duke each day. COVID-19 patients took up an average of 29% of those ICU beds, up from 23% a month ago.

At UNC Hospital's campus in Chapel Hill, 85% of the facility's 729 adult inpatient beds were occupied on average each day. The data shows 16% of those beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients, an increase from 9% the month before. A third of the hospital's 100 COVID-19 patients were in the ICU each day, occupying 27% of beds. According to the data, 68 COVID-19 patients were admitted last week, and 23% of all emergency room visits were for COVID-like symptoms.

At WakeMed in Raleigh, nearly 1,400 people visited the emergency room for COVID-like symptoms -- 40% of all emergency room visits. On average each day, 134 adult COVID-19 patients occupied inpatient beds, and nearly half of the hospital's ICU beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients. WakeMed's sister hospital in Cary had the highest percentage of COVID-19 patients in the ICU in the Triangle--62%.

In the Sandhills, however, the situation is getting a little better. Fewer inpatient beds were occupied on average each day than the week before, though the percentage of COVID-19 patients in those beds ticked up slightly from 20% the week before and 13% a month ago. However, fewer of those patients are in the ICU, occupying 22% of beds compared to 26% last week.

While hospitals in North Carolina have been feeling the strain of COVID-19 for several months, some have taken steps to keep more beds open, including canceling some elective procedures, opening other beds and floors as ICU space and operating outdoor triage and emergency care spaces.
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