RALEIGH — The highly contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19 is sending record numbers of people to North Carolina hospitals, straining hospital capacity. As hospitals continue to take steps to protect their ability to provide patient care in the face of nationwide COVID-19 related staffing shortages, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and North Carolina Emergency Management are requesting federal support for the Charlotte region to help alleviate capacity constraints.
“We continue to monitor hospital capacity and staffing needs and have requested resources, including additional nurses from FEMA,” said Governor Roy Cooper. “We appreciate previous federal support and will keep working to make sure that people get the medical care they need.”
The state is acting in partnership with Atrium Health, North Carolina’s largest health provider, with a request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response for staffing support. Atrium Health reports it has employed numerous strategies to stretch its capacity, including redeploying staff from urgent care and outpatient centers; limiting non-urgent procedures; closing specialty centers; and using additional state-provided flexibilities, as outlined in a letter NCDHHS Secretary Kody H. Kinsley sent to hospitals last week. Despite these actions, the health system is currently above 95% capacity.
“The vast majority of people hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated,” Secretary Kinsley said. “While we will continue to pull every lever we can to safeguard hospital care, each North Carolinian can do their part by staying up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccinations and wearing a well-fitting mask when around other people as we weather this surge.”
North Carolina set daily records of hospitalizations throughout January, reaching another high yesterday with 4,741 people hospitalized. Overall, hospitalizations increased 23% for the week ending Jan. 17, as compared to the week prior. Because hospitalizations lag behind increases in cases, this number may increase further. The governor has previously issued executive orders waiving regulations and giving hospitals and health care providers additional capacity and flexibility to treat COVID-19 patients.
Vaccines and boosters continue to provide the strongest protection against COVID-19 serious illness, hospitalizations and deaths. Unvaccinated individuals make up 72% of hospitalizations and 83% of COVID-19-related ICU admissions statewide. Everyone age 5 and older should get a COVID-19 vaccine, and everyone 12 and older should get a booster as soon as they are eligible. Go to MySpot.nc.gov to find a vaccine location.
In addition, with North Carolina in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention red zone of high community transmission, everyone should wear a mask when in public, indoor settings. For the best protection, wear a well-fitting, high-quality mask with multiple layers: a surgical or procedure mask, a KN95 or an N95.
NCDHHS is in close contact with hospitals across the state and our federal partners and will continue assessing needs as they arise. People should not visit a hospital emergency department solely for a COVID-19 test. Hundreds of community-based events, testing locations and home kit options are listed at ncdhhs.gov/GetTested.
Earlier this month FEMA provided the state with 25 ambulances. They have been deployed to 11 counties and are currently scheduled to remain in North Carolina until Feb. 3.