North Carolina hospitals reporting younger COVID-19 patients, overwhelmingly unvaccinated

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- On Wednesday, North Carolina neared 5,000 new cases, the continuation of worsening metrics across the board.

"What we're seeing in the hospital is a very different patient population. They are much younger. And the seriously ill are almost uniformly unvaccinated," said Dr. Lisa Pickett, the Chief Medical Officer at Duke University Hospital.

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WakeMed is reporting a similar shift; the average hospitalized patient in January was about 70 years old, now it's closer to 50 years old. About half of WakeMed's COVID-19 patients are in their 30s to 50s. In total, they have 107 patients, with about 30% requiring ICU care. In WakeMed's case, more than 90% of their COVID inpatients are not vaccinated.

"Every single day we see people in our intensive care units who are 30, 40, 50 years old who are critical ill and some die. And they were clearly people who though they weren't at-risk, and didn't get vaccinated," said Pickett.

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Since early July, 18-24 year old's make up the highest rate of new cases in the state, followed by 25-49 year old's. After them, are children younger than 18 years old, many of whom are unable to get vaccinated (Pfizer is the lone vaccine authorized for children 12-17 years old).

NCDHHS reports that more than 94% of recent cases statewide occur in people who are not vaccinated, noting the Delta variant is 65% more transmissible than the original strain.

While vaccination rates have slowly ticked up, North Carolina is still lagging national averages. As campuses and classrooms are reopening, the majority of which do not have vaccine mandates, doctors are bracing for more new cases.

"The number of cases is just rapidly escalating. We do unfortunately expect this to get worse before it gets better," said Pickett, who encourages parents to vaccinate their children if they are able to do so.

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In the Triangle, two private universities do have vaccine mandates -- Shaw and Duke.

"It makes me extremely comfortable. And I say that because like you said we're college students so we want to interact. And we do that often, especially on the courtyard. So knowing that we have to be vaccinated to attend the school in-person, it makes me feel like I don't have to be so standoffish when it comes to interacting with someone else," said Shaw senior Da'shawn Wallace.

Wallace is also a member of the university's football team, which saw its 2020 season postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Just being able to interact with my teammates, being able to be in the locker room with the guys, the weight room, on the field. Being able to have those meetings. And knowing that we actually have a 10-game schedule shows a lot of upward, in addition to knowing that we're basically allowed to have fans," said Wallace.

Shaw University is requiring masks be worn inside university buildings.
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