Eastern N.C. medical facilities see increase in COVID hospitalizations


JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – North Carolina has a new record — 2,033 people being treated for the
coronavirus in the state’s hospitals.

Medical facilities in the east are also seeing record hospitalizations as COVID cases rise. As of 7 a.m. Tuesday, Onslow Memorial Hospital reported 23 COVID patients were being treated for the virus. That number has doubled in less than a month.

Three weeks ago, the number of COVID patients per day at the Onslow County hospital was about 14. In New Bern, there are 27 cases at CarolinaEast Medical Center.

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“The number of cases we’ve had have gone up in the last few weeks, relative to how it was about a month ago, but we’re still not as high as we were in the summer,” said Dr. Ronald Ray, chief medical officer at CarolinaEast.

Ray said non-traditional units in the hospital have been transformed to be able to treat COVID patients.

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“We have two units that we’re using right now that way,” Ray said. “We have a third we can convert if we need to.”

The license for Onslow Memorial Hospital allows for 162 beds. Onslow Memorial Hospital President and CEO Penney Burlingame Deal said they have applied for a waiver to allow them to use non-traditional units for extra bed space.

“And so we have a plan in place right now in the event that we needed additional space due to surge issues, then we would be able to find spaces in places like the PACU (post-anesthesia care unit) or the OR (operating room) where we could put COVID patients,” said Burlingame Deal.

Leaders of the hospitals agree adding extra room for COVID patients can pose some challenges.

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“That would create a significant problem because there are a lot of other patients in the hospital who need to be here for other reasons,” said Ray.

As the holiday season continues, they expect cases to increase over the next few weeks.

“I imagine that we’re going to be busier than we are right now with COVID patients,” Ray said. “My other concern is our staff. They have the holidays, too.”

“So the peak that we anticipate in the next three to four weeks of this second wave could A: be much higher, that we would’ve anticipated and B: be much longer than we anticipated,” Burlingame Deal said.

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Onslow Memorial Hospital is also checking-in on the well-being of its employees. A series of virtual town hall meetings have been held for workers. This space allows them to talk about their jobs and anything they might be stressed about.

Surgeries are continuing as scheduled, visitors are being limited and employees are managing the supplies they’re using to make sure they don’t run out.

Ray say if a surge in cases does happen it’s entirely possible their available supplies could run low.

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