'The hospital is full:' COVID-19 cases still climbing in hospitals as emergency visits start to slow

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- North Carolina's hospitals are still feeling the strain of the current COVID-19 surge.

However, the good news is that new data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows that though beds are still full, many hospitals are seeing fewer people come into the emergency department with COVID-like symptoms--an early sign that the current wave may be plateauing, though at a rate too high for comfort.

At Duke University Hospital in Durham, 99% of adult inpatient beds were occupied on average each day last week--the ninth-straight week that the hospital has been at 98-100% capacity. According to the data, an average of 81 of those patients had confirmed or suspected COVID-19, meaning COVID patients filled about one out of every nine beds on average each day.

In the intensive care unit, all ICU beds were occupied on average each day last week. The ICU has been at 99-100% average capacity for 13 weeks, according to the data. A little more than a quarter of adult ICU beds were filled with COVID-19 patients on average each day, up from just under a fifth a month ago.

While the number of COVID-19 patients admitted during the week increased slightly, the number of Emergency Department visits for COVID-like symptoms decreased to 9% of all visits--down from 10% the week before but still higher than 6% a month ago.

At University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Hospital, 86% of adult beds were occupied on average each day last week, and 83 of those beds were filled with COVID-19 patients. About one in seven beds were filled with a COVID patient each day.

A little more than a third of the hospitals 120 occupied ICU beds were filled with COVID-19 patients on average each day. While the hospital still has 16 available ICU beds, just 21% of beds were occupied by COVID patients a month ago.

Both the number of COVID-19 patients admitted to the hospital and emergency visits for COVID-like symptoms decreased from the previous week. However, COVID-like symptoms still make up about 20% of emergency department visits.

At WakeMed in Raleigh, 88% of inpatient beds were occupied on average each day. Of those beds, more than a quarter were filled with COVID-19 patients--a daily average of nearly 150 suspected and confirmed COVID patients.

The hospital had an average of eight available ICU beds each day, but nearly half of all occupied ICU beds were filled with COVID-19 patients each day. That's nearly double from a month ago.

But while the number of COVID-19 patients admitted to the hospital increased over the previous week, the number of emergency visits for COVID-like symptoms dropped slightly compared to the previous week.

At UNC REX in Raleigh, confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients filled an average of 16% of occupied beds each day--about one in six beds. In the ICU, COVID-19 patients take up nearly a quarter of all occupied beds.

Monday, staff set up triage tents outside of its emergency department to care for patients.

"The hospital is full," said Rex Director of Emergency Services Kim Boyer. "We are like 90% or greater capacity in the hospital. So that means we also get backed up in the ER. So that means we need additional space for not only the volume but some of the boarding."

The tents will give the emergency department more room for patients to wait to be seen and treated.

Still, according to the federal data, emergency department visits for COVID-like symptoms dropped to 13% from 15% the previous week--a sign that times could be getting easier.

And in the Sandhills, Cape Fear Valley Medical Center had an average of 95 patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 in inpatient beds each day last week. That's about one COVID patient for every five beds.

There were just two ICU beds available on average each day in the hospital, and about 30% of occupied ICU beds were filled with COVID-19 patients. However, that number has decreased in the last month from 31%.

While the number of emergency visits for COVID symptoms increased slightly, the hospital admitted fewer COVID-19 patients in the last week.
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