RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Hospitals across the Triangle are preparing for a potential surge of COVID-19 patients as the more contagious omicron variant spreads through the state. Combine that with holiday travel, and health care workers worry there could soon be many more sick people.
For health care workers, the fight against COVID-19 can seem like a never-ending battle. Misty Williamson knows that first-hand.
“Everybody’s getting tired and a little disheartened,” she said.
Williamson has worked in UNC’s intensive care unit throughout the pandemic. She cares for people with severe cases of COVID-19.
“We’re seeing more. We do ECMO here, which is lung bypass, so we see the sickest of the sick COVID patients,” she said.
She worries she could soon see more of them. UNC Health is currently treating about 180 COVID-19 patients across the hospital system. That’s up from 77 a month ago, and the number of patients in Triangle hospitals could spike in the coming weeks.
Dr. Brian Burrows, chair of emergency medicine at Duke Regional Hospital, said holiday gatherings combined with the rapidly spreading omicron variant could mean a big surge for hospitals.
“I think we’re all a little caught off guard, even in the medical community, we’re surprised at the variant has decided to take off so quick,” he said.
Hospitals have learned a lot over the past couple of years about caring for COVID-19 patients and how to keep the virus from spreading. Burrows said his hospital is “looking at reestablishing possibly a respiratory waiting room.”
“We have some evidence western North Carolina is seeing a significant increase,” he said.
Both Williamson and Burrows said health care workers are leaning on each other for support, and they’re asking the public to do everything possible to stay healthy to help ease the strain on hospitals. Their biggest concern is that with such a contagious variant, health care workers will get sick and won’t be able to care for patients.
“If we go down, there’s nobody to pick up the slack because we are picking up the slack already,” Williamson said. “We all work extra days and extra hours and pick up partial shifts and fill in the gaps where needed.”
Burrows added: “I think the biggest worry we have is not being able to take care of our community, when we sure as heck want to.”