RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – State health officials said North Carolina could reach the plateau of new COVID-19 cases by the end of the month but that hospitals could continue to be strained for weeks after that.
Dr. Susan Kansagra, acting senior deputy division director for public health with the state Department of Health and Human Services, said while other parts of the country already are seeing cases level off, North Carolina has lagged behind them in the latest surge.
“We are still seeing cases go up. We’re about two weeks behind other places that have started to see a plateau,” Kansagra said. “There are some big cities and places that have started earlier like New York, for example, New York City. So, we’re about two weeks behind them.”
She added, “It’s really hard to predict at this point. We’re continuing to monitor that. And certainly, hospitalizations lag behind cases. So, we know we might continue to see that increase as well even as cases start to plateau.”
On Monday, the state reported new record highs of 4,896 people in hospitals with COVID-19 and 37.8 percent of tests coming back positive.
The state recently asked FEMA to send 50 medical personnel to the Charlotte area to help Atrium Health as the hospital system has exceeded 95 percent of capacity.
In the application the state sent, officials noted, “The state of NC does not have any additional staffing resources to provide to support Atrium Health. We have provided a list of individuals that are available to assist Atrium Health, but that list has been exhausted. We have not been able to get staff from any of our staffing contracts.”
Steve Lawler, president and CEO of the North Carolina Healthcare Association, which represents the state’s hospitals, said they’ve become so busy caring for a wide variety of patients that it’s increasingly difficult to shift employees around.
“Every day is a new record,” he said. “We have hospital CEOs that are doing housekeeping work now and people that are C-suite executives, chief executives, working in cafeterias because that’s what we have to do.”
DHHS noted the state already has waived more than 90 regulations, including 60 which are specific to hospitals. The agency also has reached out to more than 20,000 people, including retirees, to try to help the health care workforce in North Carolina.
Lawler said hospitals are taking steps such as caring for patients in hallways, limiting and delaying non-emergency procedures, and moving employees who work on outpatient procedures to inpatient care.
“These folks have worked courageously non-stop. We have not had the luxury of closing our doors or taking a break,” he said. “We are much more confident in our ability to take care of really sick COVID patients.”
Meka Douthit, a nursing director at Cone Health and president of the North Carolina Nurses Association, said she and her colleagues are working longer hours and looking for signs that the surge will subside.
“It’s a really stressful time in the health care environment just for the sheer numbers,” she said. “Some hope to see the light at the end of the tunnel. When will that be?”