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Virus Straining NC Hospitals: 'We Don't Want Your Business'

Raleigh-area hospitals in North Carolina are sounding the alarm as younger and otherwise healthy adults are increasingly being hospitalized due to COVID-19. The combination of the more contagious delta variant, residents' continued refusal to get vaccinated and ongoing staffing shortages is straining hospital systems' already thin resources.

In a virtual news conference with reporters, Wake County Emergency Medical Services Director Jose Cabañas said Wednesday that his department is getting more calls for help than ever before, with many cases of more than 400 people seeking assistance on a given day. That's up from pre-pandemic levels of about 300 daily calls.

“The experience that we're seeing in the community with over 10,000 calls a month is a complete new thing for us. We've never had that threshold before," Cabañas said.

Meanwhile, major hospitals in the region are running low on the number of intensive care unit beds and workers who can manage them. Dr. Linda Butler, chief medical officer at UNC REX Healthcare, said she has about 520 patients in her hospital on Wednesday and just 439 total available beds. She added that the hospital's ICU capacity is now full.

Butler said the public does not understand how critical the situation is across many of North Carolina's hospitals.

“Please get vaccinated so you do not end up a patient in one of our hospitals,” Butler said. “We don't want your business. We want you to be healthy.”

Dr. Seth Brody, chief physician executive for WakeMed Health & Hospitals, said the average age of patients his system is treating for COVID-19 has dropped dramatically, particularly as the vast majority of elderly residents are fully unvaccinated and most young adults are not.

“Our average age is almost 20 years younger than it was in the first surge," Brody said.

Data the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services released on Wednesday shows 621,064 of the nearly 1.8 million residents aged 12 to 24, are fully vaccinated — less than 35% of the cohort. Meanwhile, nearly 1.5 million of the more than 1.7 million North Carolinians 65 or older, or 84%, are fully vaccinated.

The more than 3,500 patients currently in North Carolina hospitals due to COVID-19 is the highest total since Jan. 21, when spread of the virus was rampant and vaccines were not yet widely available.

More than 2,000 intensive care unit beds are in use across North Carolina, while less than 300 are empty and staffed, according to state health department data. About 1,100 ICU beds are either unreported or unstaffed.

Copyright 2021 WFAE

Bryan Anderson | Associated Press