New federal data show where ICUs in NC have been most crowded

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Intensive care units in at least nine of North Carolina’s hospitals were more than 95 percent full, according to a analysis of new federal COVID-19 data.

The data, released earlier this week by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides the most detailed look yet at the occupancy rates of individual hospitals across the country and state. Daily state DHHS data gets no more granular than the eight regions — or healthcare preparedness coalitions, as the agency calls them.

“Our hospitals are feeling the strain and this is really worrisome,” NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said Thursday. “While we are able to currently able to manage our capacity at this point, as we’ve seen in other states, things can escalate quickly.”

The federal data includes a seven-day count on a Friday-to-Thursday reporting period with the most recent figures covering Nov. 27-Dec. 3. 

The exact number of hospitals above 95 percent capacity in their ICU units is not known because the federal agency suppresses totals and averages that are less than four, replacing them on the data set with “-999,999.”

According to the figures that can be determined, two of the hospitals with the highest known ICU occupancy rates are in the CBS 17 area: Vidant Edgecombe Hospital in Tarboro, and Central Carolina Hospital in Sanford.

The figures showed all eight ICU beds at Vidant Edgecombe were full all week, while the eight beds at Central Carolina were 98 percent full, with one of them vacant for one day.

Jason Lowry, a spokesman for Greenville-based Vidant Health, said in a statement that the 163 COVID patients people hospitalized today throughout the system mark the highest number so far.

“Although we do not currently have a capacity issue and have adequate (personal protective equipment), we are concerned about the growing number of COVID cases throughout the state and eastern North Carolina,” he said. “Our front line health care workers are tired of seeing deaths from this pandemic.”

A spokeswoman for Central Carolina did not immediately respond to an interview request from CBS 17 News.

More than 57 percent of the ICU patients at Chatham Hospital in Siler City and nearly half of those at Vidant Edgecombe have COVID-19, the federal data show. Across the state Thursday, COVID patients account for more than a quarter of all ICU beds currently in use.

Hospitalizations are a lagging indicator of COVID-19 spread because it takes time for an infected person to develop symptoms and for those symptoms to become severe enough to require medical attention at a hospital.

According to calculations from state DHHS data, for the week covered by the new federal numbers, the average daily COVID-19 hospitalizations across North Carolina was 1,945 patients with about 25 percent of those in ICUs.

The state has reported at least 2,100 COVID-19 hospitalizations every day since then with the total increasing to a record high every day, topped — so far — by 2,444 on Thursday with 22 percent of those in ICUs.

As a result, the seven-day average in total hospitalizations has increased by nearly 20 percent to 2,289, and the average number of COVID-19 patients in ICUs is up 13 percent.

That’s a likely indication that the next set of numbers released by the federal DHHS will be even higher.

“I am concerned about where we are going to be as a state in two to three weeks from now,” Cohen said. “We are on a dangerous course.”

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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