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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

NC's COVID-19 Hospitalizations Are Increasing. Here's What We Know


The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in North Carolina has hit record highs over the past couple of weeks. On Wednesday, the statewide number was 1,142 -- the highest since the pandemic started. Are Charlotte-area hospitals prepared? 


How does hospital capacity compare to before COVID-19?

Seventy-five percent of North Carolina’s inpatient hospital beds and 80% of its intensive care unit beds were full as of Thursday, with 90% of hospitals reporting, according to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. 

State Health Director Mandy Cohen said Thursday that’s around normal capacity for the state’s hospitals. She said the number of available beds can increase or decrease depending on the season. Hospitals generate revenue by admitting patients. 

What are the latest hospitalization numbers?

Statewide, North Carolina has seen an increasein the number of hospitalizations over the past couple of weeks. On July 1, according to NCDHHS, there were 901 people hospitalized with COVID-19. On Wednesday, there were 1,142 people in the hospital -- a record high.

In Mecklenburg County, there was a jump in the number of hospitalizations between the end of June and start of July. But since then, the county’s hospitalization numbers have been more or less level. Between 160 and 185 people have been in the hospital each day, according to the latest county data. 

How many beds are available at Atrium and Novant?

They said 20% in a joint statement on July 10.

Dr. Gary Little, Chief Medical Officer of the Metro Division for Atrium, said on Thursday that the hospital system is successfully managing the number of coronavirus patients. 

A Novant spokeswoman said on Thursday via email that the system isn’t concerned about its capacity or preparedness for COVID-19 patients but that "we do share the state's concerns about the trends we're seeing."

Who’s going to the hospital?

Both Atrium and Novant said on average, the patients are a bit younger. Dr. Gary Little with Atrium said that means they don’t have as many chronic or underlying health conditions. 

“So they aren’t requiring the ICU care or ventilation that the earlier increase in patients was back in the early spring,” Little said. 

“That’s resulted in fewer patients needing ICU-level care, fewer patients needing to be on the ventilator. And that means their hospital stay has been shorter so they’re not consuming as much bed capacity as patients were earlier.”

Little also said Atrium is using treatments like remdesivir and dexamethasone, both of which have been found in recent months to help reduce the severity of the disease in hospitalized patients. 

Do Atrium and Novant have enough beds if hospitalizations keep increasing? 

Both systems said they have preparedness plans that would increase the number of available beds.

A Novant spokeswoman said it has plans that could expand its bed capacity by 60%.

In March, both Novant and Atrium postponed non-essential surgeries to free up bed space. They could do that again if necessary. 

Dr. Gary Little with Atrium said the more the virus spreads, the more people will need to be hospitalized. 

“If we just keep seeing thousands or tens of thousands of people getting infected, those numbers -- even though they play in our favor when they’re small numbers -- when we get to big numbers, those percentages are gonna overwhelm our health systems,” Little said. 

He said it’s important for people to keep doing things to keep the virus from spreading, like wearing a mask when social distancing isn’t possible, washing hands often and staying six feet away from other people. 

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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.