RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – In the first week of 2021, North Carolina recorded higher daily COVID-19 case counts, hospitalizations, and percent positives than at any point in 2020.

Health care experts on the frontlines say the volume of cases is putting a strain on resources, and they expect the surge to continue for several weeks.

“This is a significant increase over what we saw certainly in the spring and even when we previously thought we peaked in late June, early July time frame,” said Katie Galbraith, president of Duke Regional Hospital.

On Wednesday, 191 people are in hospitals across the Duke Health system battling COVID-19. A total of 43 of those patients are in the ICU, according to Galbraith.

Across UNC Health systems, 480 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 and 26 of them are in intensive care, according to Abhi Mehrotra, vice chair of UNC’s Department of Emergency Medicine.

“We’re more than double where we were in July in terms of number of patients in the hospital for COVID disease,” said Mehrotra.

Statewide, current hospitalizations are nearly triple compared to the COVID-19 spike this summer.

On Wednesday, the state reported a new record high with 3,893.

At its peak on July 22, 1,279 were hospitalized with COVID-19.  

The highest number of hospitalizations in 2020 was on New Year’s Eve with 3,481 COVID-19 patients in the hospital.

“It’s putting a strain on our resources, on the nursing staff, on providers in the hospital, on the pharmacists, the respiratory therapists, the housekeeping staff on caring for these patients,” said Mehrotra.

The percent positive rate also reached a new record high Wednesday, at 17.8 percent.

At its peak in 2020, the percent positive was 16.3 percent on April 12.

Galbraith says that means there’s more community spread of COVID-19, and everyone needs to remain vigilant about safety.

“Even with the vaccine we can’t lose sight of the importance of wearing a mask, washing our hands, frequent hand hygiene, and avoiding those public gatherings.  Really gathering with anyone outside your immediate family, your immediate household,” she said.