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Hospitals take drastic steps amid flood of COVID-19 patients ::

— Area hospitals continue to struggle with the increasing number of COVID-19 patients streaming into emergency rooms and taking up intensive care unit beds.

More than 3,500 people statewide were being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals across North Carolina on Monday, according to state officials. That figure is up 10 percent from a week ago and is more than triple the number from a month ago.

“We just have so many COVID patients coming in that’s really saturating kind of the whole system,” said Dr. David Kirk, WakeMed’s associate chief medical officer.

WakeMed has almost 200 COVID-19 patients, Kirk said, and 85 to 90 percent of them haven’t been vaccinated against coronavirus.

The system has resorted to putting a dozen patient beds in the lobby of its main hospital in Raleigh as a makeshift emergency room.

“We can create more space. We have plenty of supplies. What we don’t have, due to the nationwide staffing shortage, is more people,” Kirk said. “You can’t get in enough people, so the people that are here just have to work longer and have to work harder.

“Our staff are exhausted. They’re frustrated. They’re tired,” he added.

The situation is similar at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, where President Brian Floyd said 172 patients have COVID-19, 45 are in critical care and 21 are on life support. Ninety percent of those patients are unvaccinated, he said.

“We are now back to levels we saw before we had a vaccine,” Floyd said, noting that he was speaking out on behalf of the hospital’s thousands of “dedicated, emotionally exhausted team members.”

“We are seeing more death and suffering in our ICUs than we have ever seen before,” said Dr. Ogugua Obi, who heads Vidant’s medical ICU.

Dr. Matthew LeDoux, director of pediatrics at Vidant Health’s Maynard Children’s Hospital, said he worked one shift last week in which three teens, all unvaccinated, were admitted to the ICU. A newborn infected by a family member also was in the hospital, he said.

“We have been incredibly lucky and grateful not to lose a child yet to COVID-19, but if the current trajectory continues, we will lose a child,” LeDoux said.

UNC Health Southeastern in Lumberton has seen so many COVID-19 deaths recently that hospital administrators rented a mobile morgue over the weekend because the hospital’s regular morgue is full.

“We saw the number of deaths increasing last week at a level that we knew was going to surpass anything that we had experienced in the past,” said Joann Anderson, the hospital’s president and chief medical officer. “We didn’t want to get to the point where we didn’t have space for a body should a patient die and we needed to hold them for a while before a funeral home could come to get them.”

Anderson said the hospital’s morgue would have one or two bodies on a normal day, but it had 11 on Monday – one shy of capacity. All of those deaths were coronavirus-related, she said.

Robeson County has the lowest vaccination rate in North Carolina at just 29 percent. Statewide, 60 percent of adults age 18 or older are fully vaccinated.

“To have a vaccination rate that low makes us an extremely vulnerable population, and that’s what we’re seeing laid out right now with the numbers that we’re seeing,” Anderson said, noting that she saw cars lined up for virus tests when she drove to work on Monday.

“It just concerns me that I have that many people that need to be tested [and] I don’t have a line for people to be vaccinated,” she said.

Physicians at all three hospitals urged people who haven’t gotten vaccinated to get their shots as soon as possible.

“A person getting a vaccine, they will personally save lives,” Kirk said. “They will save lives by keeping other people from getting infected, but also from keeping people and health care workers from getting infected and keeping kids in schools from getting infected.”

“Please consider the vaccination as an option,” Anderson said.

“Please, please, please take the vaccine. Don’t become a statistic,” Obi said. “This is preventable. This is unnecessary.”

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