North Carolina COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to climb. So what do those numbers mean?

Joel Brown Image
Thursday, June 25, 2020
As NC COVID-19 hospitalizations climb, are the numbers deceiving?
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If you go to the hospital with a non-COVID-19 problem and you test positive, are you classified a 'COVID patient'?

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- The number of people hospitalized because of COVID-19 has been consistently growing since May. It's been below 800 just three times since June 11. But what does that mean?

"Since May 19, the number of people hospitalized has increased 56 percent," Governor Cooper said in his Wednesday briefing. "Hospital capacity can be overwhelmed in the blink of an eye."


"We used to be rock solid in the mid 500s of the total number of hospitalizations. We're now in the 900's and that trend continues to go up," said North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen.

State Senator Jeff Jackson, a Mecklenburg Democrat, tweeted about the troubling statistics; raising a question about the data -- about how the state is counting people going to hospitals for routine procedures who are then tested for COVID-19 and come back positive.

"We need to make sure we're measuring people hospitalized for COVID, not with COVID," he said.

It's a question ABC11 put to the state health director Wednesday night.

"When you think about the role of elective procedures, a lot of our health systems are doing pre-screening. They'll screen you as an outpatient then depending on the results they make a decision on whether this is the time to do an elective procedure or not," Dr. Betsey Tilson said. "So (the classifications) may be playing a small role. But, I don't think it's playing the majority of the role."

Tilson spoke on Duke Health System Chief Medical Officer Joseph Rogers' comments to Bloomberg Wednesday, that Duke intensive care units are currently 93 percent full, including many patients who delayed care after COVID-19 hit. Rogers insisted the surge is not out of control; that Duke can reduce surgeries if it needs to boost capacity for COVID-19.

"We do agree with that," Tilson said about Rogers' assessment. "Although our hospitalizations are going up, we still have capacity, which is good."

"The trick with COVID-19 is it can accelerate really quickly and get away from you. So, although right now, we're OK, we just wanna be sure we're not in a place where we quickly don't become OK."

Cohan on Wednesday pointed out four areas where North Carolina needs to improve when it comes to coronavirus key metrics. She said COVID-like syndromic cases -- the number of people visiting the emergency room with symptoms similar to COVID-19 -- are increasing.

She also pointed out that, though Wednesday marked the second highest increase in number of cases reported for a single day, the trajectory of cases had begun to level last week before spiking. However, she also pointed out that this metric has been elevated throughout the Safer at Home order.

In addition, the percentage of positive tests continues to be elevated -- which Cohen said is an indication that the virus is still "very prevalent" in North Carolina.

Cohen also noted that the number of hospitalizations has been steadily increasing for over a month.