As the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 continues to rise, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) began publicly releasing regional hospitalization data to show where in the state the virus is hitting hardest.
"I think one of the exciting things about having the data on a regional basis is it allows our hospitals in each region to coordinate efforts and resources in ways that you really can't do if you don't have that data," said Cody Hand, the Vice President of the North Carolina Healthcare Association.
He said as hospitalizations rise, understanding where capacity is increasing will help the state better tackle the virus.
"Instead of having a statewide response, we can have a regional response so that if there is a resurgence in a certain area in the eastern part of the state, we don't have to shut down the western part of the state," Hand said. "It really allows us to be much more nimble in treating the illness and much more responsive at the local level."
As of July 23, North Carolina has recorded a new daily high for patients hospitalized with the novel coronavirus 12 times.
CORONAVIRUS MAP: Tracking COVID-19 across North Carolina
NCDHHS divides hospitals into eight regions. Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are rising most rapidly in the regions including Mecklenburg County (328 current hospitalizations) and the Piedmont Triad (261).
While North Carolina hospitals still have a fair amount of capacity, NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen has repeatedly called hospitalizations a "lagging indicator" for COVID-19, meaning that hospitalizations tend to increase several weeks after a spike in cases or emergency room syndromic visits.
However, during a news conference Tuesday, Cohen said that while she is watching hospitalization numbers closely, the rate at which inpatient and ICU beds are filling up remains fairly constant across health systems, which she said is a good sign for the state's healthcare systems.
"This pandemic remains at a simmer, not a boil," Cohen said Tuesday. "Flattening the curve takes daily work. There's no 'one and done' here."
Other health officials agree.
"I think it's helpful perspective that we are nowhere near being overwhelmed by COVID and that's really different from the kind of early, exponential, overwhelming wave that hits places like New York, Italy, Spain," explained WakeMed's chief medical officer Dr. Chris DeRienzo. "What we've prepared for, what all the actions that we took in March and April allowed us to was take the exponential curve and flatten it."
If a surge of patients did occur, DeRienzo said the state would be better prepared to handle it now due to the systems it's put in place. He also said constantly monitoring capacity numbers and other data gives healthcare systems early warning signs of when things might get bad, signs they didn't have in the beginning.
In the region including Wake, Johnston, Franklin, Lee and Harnett counties, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 increased slightly in early July from a low of 86 patients on June 27. However, after a spike in hospitalizations with 118 patients on July 7, that number has dropped to 98 people currently hospitalized with 32 adult COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit.
In the Capital Region, the majority of intensive care unit beds are currently in use. Of 167 total staffed beds, only 37 are currently available. Of 1,206 staffed inpatient beds, 285 are available.
WATCH: There's little room for error when it comes to hospital capacity in North Carolina
Duke Healthcare Region
In the region including Durham, Granville, Vance, Person, Caswell and Robeson counties, hospitalizations have been trending upward over the last two weeks. After hitting a daily record high of 132 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday, that number has decreased slightly to 125 patients, with 31 in the intensive care unit.
Of 210 staffed ICU beds in the region, only 29 are available. However, the majority of the ICU beds in the region are unstaffed (or no data about availability was reported), therefore the region may have some surge capacity available should available beds run out. Of 2,037 staff inpatient beds, 364 are currently available.
In the region including Orange, Alamance, Chatham, Montgomery, Hoke, Moore, Cumberland, Sampson and Warren counties, hospitalizations are starting to trend slightly upward over the last few days. Currently, the region has 146 people hospitalized with COVID-19 and 48 COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit, the third highest for both metrics in the state.
Though the region has a relatively high number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19, there is a good amount of hospital capacity in the area. Of 460 staffed ICU beds, 102 are currently available. Of 2,714 total staffed inpatient beds in the region, 613 are available.
COVID-19 hospitalizations have remained fairly level over the last month in the region that includes Nash, Edgecombe, Halifax, Northampton, Wilson, Wayne, and many of the state's eastern and coastal counties, though there has been a slight uptick in the last week to 120 patients currently, with 35 patients in the intensive care unit.
The Eastern Region also has a fair amount of hospital capacity available should cases surge in the area. Of 265 staffed ICU beds, 62 are currently available across the region. Of 2,704 staffed inpatient beds, 819 are available.
Hand said hospitals across the state continue to work to maintain enough staff and personal protective equipment and are constantly looking two weeks ahead.
So far, all hospitals report the number of patients are manageable but both Hand and DeRienzo said that might not be the case forever.
"The concern is that I believe most people are getting tired. Most of our communities are tired of wearing masks, tired of staying separate... our concern is unless we ramp up rapid testing and get more results back faster we really won't be able to contain the spread of this virus," Hand said.