Hospitals adjust ICU capacity as number of COVID patients surges

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Hospitals are experiencing a crush of COVID-19 patients and taking steps to handle the increase.

The UNC Health Care System is one of those seeing a rise in cases. Two months ago, it was treating 50 patients for COVID-19 systemwide. On Tuesday, there were 475 people receiving care.

The jump is putting pressure on those working the frontlines.

"I think that we became a little too relaxed too soon," said UNC physician Dr. Alexa Mieses Malchuk.

She has spent time in the ICU treating patients and said hospitals are making adjustments to handle the influx.

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"That maximum number that we can admit has increased simply to accommodate the number of patients that are coming into the hospital," Malchuk said.

Unlike this time last year, healthcare facilities are now seeing more children.

The latest data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services shows cluster cases in schools shot up 137 percent in a week.

Malchuk said the primary reason is that children younger than 12 can't be vaccinated.

"I think the other part of it is the Delta variant. It's more contagious. We know if you're infected with the Delta variant, you're more likely to infect other people and more like to infect a larger number of people," she said.

The Wake County School District just started its new school year. The vast majority of students are back for in-person instruction.

A district spokesperson said reverting to 100 percent remote learning would require state legislation or an order from the governor.

READ MORE: Number of COVID-19 patients taking up North Carolina hospital beds continues to rise

ABC11 is not aware of any immediate changes.

Malchuk worries especially for little ones.

"In the worst of cases, yes, children and adults can end up with severe respiratory symptoms in the ICU on the ventilator," she said. "Children, in particular, can suffer from a type of syndrome that affects many different organs and organ systems in the body all at once."
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