End of the Christmas COVID-19 surge? NC’s hospital numbers drop 20% in less than 2 weeks


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Daily COVID-19 hospitalizations across North Carolina have fallen by nearly 20 percent in less than two weeks, a CBS17.com data analysis found.

The drop mirrors the recent reduction in the average numbers of daily new cases seen across the state, providing further evidence that the post-holiday surge in transmission has peaked — in those two key metrics, anyway.

The state Department of Health and Human Services on Monday reported 3,287 COVID-19 patients in hospitals across the state. That marks the fewest since Dec. 28 and 18 percent fewer than the single-day record of 3,992 set Jan. 14.

A total of 329 new confirmed COVID-19 admissions were recorded Sunday, the fewest since Dec. 26, with the weekly rolling average of those admissions dropping by 19 percent since also peaking on Jan. 14.

And hospitals across the state are less than 75 percent full — the first time the occupancy rate has been that low since Jan. 3.

“For any one individual hospital, it might not be declining as much,” said Dr. Linda Butler, chief medical officer at UNC Rex Hospital. “But overall for the state, it has.”

The eight regions — or, healthcare preparedness coalitions, as DHHS describes them — were between 65 percent and 85 percent full Monday, according to state data.

The Capital region — which includes Wake County and four surrounding counties — had the highest occupancy rate at 85 percent and the Duke region — which includes Durham County, Robeson County and a handful of counties along the Virginia border — was at 81 percent occupancy. 

The region in the western mountains had the most capacity, at just 65 percent full.

Butler cited three primary reasons for the drop in those numbers.

More hospitals are using antibody treatments for COVID-19 patients. The pace of vaccinations has picked up in recent weeks, with the state averaging more than 33,000 doses administered over the first three days of last week, the most recent data available.

And the state appears to be on the other side of the surge in the key metrics that followed the late December holidays.

The number of new cases began dropping noticeably more than a week ago, with the state averaging 6,144 new cases over the past seven days — a drop of nearly 30 percent from the peak of 8,654 on Jan. 12.

That’s despite testing remaining relatively flat, with the state averaging about 60,000 tests processed per day throughout January.

Previous surges have followed a similar pattern, with the number of new cases and the test positivity rate falling first, followed days or weeks later by a reduction in the number of hospitalized patients and, eventually, by a slowing in the pace of deaths.

The state reported at least 100 deaths every day from last Thursday through Sunday before just 25 were reported Monday.

“I think it followed the track that we were expecting,” Butler said. “It could have been worse, but there was an opportunity for it to be better as well.”

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