RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care is dropping in most of North Carolina’s eight regions.
In some places — including Raleigh — those counts are falling slightly faster.
With the surge driven by the delta variant fading after two months, there are fewer COVID patients in hospitals across the state than there were just a few weeks ago.
But for the most part the count of people in ICUs isn’t falling quite as quickly as the total of overall patients is — mainly because those in intensive care are sicker and face significantly longer stays.
“I think people don’t realize that folks with COVID-19, who end up in the ICU, generally stay there for quite a bit of time,” said Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease specialist at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
There were just over 3,000 COVID patients in hospitals Wednesday, a drop of 21 percent from the peak on Sept. 9. But among the sickest of the sick, the 838 patients in intensive care are only down 12 percent from the pandemic high of 955 on Sept. 13.
“Those patients who become critically ill tend to stay in the intensive care unit for a very long period of time,” said Dr. Lisa Pickett, a trauma surgeon at Duke Health. “Once they’re on a ventilator, they’re in the intensive care unit for literally weeks and sometimes months.”
State Department of Health and Human Services data Wednesday showed one of the largest drops in the region — or healthcare preparedness coalitions, as the agency calls them — that covers Raleigh.
Those numbers fell by 28 percent in two weeks in the WakeMed region that covers most of Wake County along with four surrounding counties.
There were quicker, steeper drops in the regions based in the Triad and the Charlotte area.
Three regions have presences in the Triangle — each anchored by either UNC Health, Duke Health or WakeMed — and two showed double-digit declines.
In addition to the WakeMed region, those numbers are also down 10 percent since Sept. 19 in the UNC Health region that includes Orange and Chatham counties and six southern counties.
In the Duke region — which covers Durham County, five counties along the Virginia border and Robeson County — the 61 patients currently in intensive care are only slightly down from the peak of 65 two weeks ago.
Wohl says to expect a lag between the drop in overall hospitalizations and those in intensive care. A similar lag showed up during the winter surge, with the drop in the ICU count following the decline in general admissions.
CBS 17’s Joedy McCreary has been tracking COVID-19 figures since March 2020, compiling data from federal, state, and local sources to deliver a clear snapshot of what the coronavirus situation looks like now and what it could look like in the future.