Fact-check: COVID hospital patient count climbing faster now than at any point of pandemic

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients each day is increasing faster than it has at any other point of the pandemic, a CBS17.com data analysis found.

The analysis lines up with a quote last week from state Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen, who called it “the fastest increase we’ve seen since the pandemic started.”

DHHS on Monday reported 1,359 patients in hospitals with COVID-19, the most since late February.

That number is still only about a third of what it was at the peak. But, the analysis found, when the count grew to nearly 4,000 in January, that speed was nowhere near what it is now.

CBS17.com plotted the two-week percent change in hospitalized patients for every day since March 2020. For example, Monday’s total represents a 102 percent increase from what it was two weeks earlier, on July 19.

Each of the last 10 days showed an increase of at least 100 percent — meaning it at least doubled during the previous 14 days. Each of the 17 days with the highest two-week percent changes took place since July 17.

Before the current Delta-driven surge, the highest two-week increase higher was 44 percent on May 27, 2020.

Those hospital totals have climbed on 23 straight days, on 22 of them rising by at least 16 from one day to the next. It rose by 80 from Sunday to Monday.

Doctors across the Triangle interpret the fast rise as a warning sign to prepare for capacity issues now — whether that means postponing so-called elective procedures, shoring up staffing issues among nurses or sketching out plans for temporary field hospitals — before things get worse.

“This rapid increase means we need to be thinking, just in the next week or two, as our numbers are projected to go up and up, to be absolutely sure that we have the capacity to care for those patients,” said Duke trauma surgeon Dr. Lisa Pickett.

Hospitals across the state were about 75 percent full Monday — close to the pandemic high of 81 percent in June 2020 and much higher than they usually are at this time of year.

“It’s summertime now, so we really shouldn’t be at a high,” Pickett said. “Those are numbers that we see in the depths of the busy flu season.”

It’s not distributed evenly everywhere across the state, with DHHS data showing some hospitals in the Triangle are among the most crowded.

DHHS divides the state into eight regions — also known as healthcare preparedness coalitions — and its breakdown gets no more granular than that.

(Source: NCDHHS)

Data show the hospitals in the Capital Region (which includes Wake County and four surrounding ones) and the Duke Region (including Durham County, five counties along the Virginia border and Robeson County) were more than 85 percent full Monday.

Conversely, hospitals in the 17-county Mountain Area region in the western tip of the state were not even two-thirds full.

Across the state, more than 9 percent of the people in all those beds have COVID-19 — the highest that rate has been since February, but still well below its January peak of nearly 25 percent.

“It is a signal knowing that this Delta variant is quite infective and quite infectious,” said Dr. Abbi Mehrotra of the University of North Carolina Department of Emergency Medicine. “And if we can prevent that from occurring, then that is to our benefit.”


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.


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