Sunday, March 26, 2023

Covid-19 Recap: Report sees Wilmington-area hospitals hitting capacity by winter, plus other updates [Free]

Though a cumulative graph will always rise, the rate of the increase can be observed in the shape of the curve. In New Hanover County’s cases, the curve is sharply rising. (Port City Daily graphic/Johanna F. Still)

SOUTHEASTERN, N.C. — A new report estimates that if hospitalizations continue to rise at the current rate, hospitals in the Wilmington region could reach capacity by mid-October.

If those hospitals, including New Hanover Regional Medical Center (NHRMC), use the ‘surge capacity beds’ they have prepared, they can hold out until mid-December, the report estimates.

Related: Restaurants around the region closing again due to Covid-19 concerns [Free read]

Comparatively, hospital capacity is estimated to arrive by July 30 — even with surge beds — in the Greenville region, which has the highest growth in hospitalizations.

Authored by UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke University, and NoviSci researchers, the report is based on current estimates and localized case trends. NHRMC will not disclose how many people are currently hospitalized for Covid-19 (here’s an explanation on why). However, New Hanover County announced Friday that there are between 20 and 30 individuals hospitalized for Covid-19; this information is not regularly released to the public.

The report categorizes the Wilmington region to include Columbus, Brunswick, New Hanover, Pender, Duplin, Onslow, and Carteret Counties. Combined, the region’s seven-day percent growth in hospitalizations is 10% as of June 12, according to the report. This falls below the state’s average weekly hospitalization growth rate (14%) and far below the state’s highest hospitalization growth rate (43%) in the Greenville region.

One of the report’s authors told North Carolina Health News that wearing facemasks, social distancing, and frequent handwashing can help blunt the growth in hospitalizations.

Other Covid-19 updates

Cases continue to rise:

Locally, New Hanover County saw its largest one-day positive case count Friday. New cases have climbed by 51% in New Hanover County since last week, up 179 between June 12 and June 19. At 529 total cases, 136 have recovered, according to county data.

Brunswick County has added 116 new cases in one week between June 12 and June 19, a 59% increase.

The virus is disproportionately impacting marginalized communities both nationally and locally. North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) recently updated its testing criteria to suggest asymptomatic high-risk populations, including minorities, those who attended close gatherings, and front-line workers should be tested.

For now, New Hanover County’s free drive-thru testing site is still requiring individuals to have symptoms to be a close contact of a Covid-19 positive case to get tested.

“This criteria is set according to our capacity at this time,” Kate Oelslager, county spokesperson explained Friday. Testing is available at private clinics for anyone, regardless of whether they meet state criteria. The county’s call center can connect people with testing resources, pre-screens, and can schedule tests through the drive-thru testing site, Oelslager said.

Testing is on the rise, but experts say the increase cannot be solely attributed to an increase in testing. Relaxed behaviors and failure to follow safety protocols is contributing to the spike.

“We know the increases we’re seeing are not solely due to testing alone,” NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said at the June 18 press conference. Cohen said the state’s percentage of positive cases is sitting at 9% as of Thursday afternoon. Also Thursday, the state also reached a new hospitalization high, for the fifth day in a row, climbing to a total of 871 people currently hospitalized for the virus.

She said the recent increases have been driven by people aged between 25 and 49 but did not offer further specifics. A majority of cases in New Hanover County (40%), Brunswick County (33%), and statewide (45%) are found in individuals between the ages of 25 and 49.

Possibility of masks being mandatory:

Some areas in the state have created local mandates requiring the use of face coverings in public, including the City of Raleigh and Orange and Durham Counties. Governor Roy Cooper said no decision has been made but that the state is seriously considering how to implement a new mask rule.

“We’re looking at ways to significantly increase the use of face coverings,” Cooper said at a June 18 press conference. The state is carefully examining how to legally implement a statewide requirement, Cooper said. “If you’re going to make a law you have to be careful about what you’re doing, you have to be specific and you have to have it based on your best evidence,” he said.

However, he acknowledged the rule would be more convincing if people would lead by example. “You also are going to get better results too when you can convince the public heart and soul that this is a good thing to do,” he said.

Enforcement would be a component of the mandate, Cooper added.

Moving on to phase three, or back to phase one:

Governor Cooper’s phase two executive order expires Friday, June 26 at 5 p.m. That means the state will have to choose to either extend the existing order, strengthen public requirements and order closures, loosen requirements, or enact some other combination of rules.

Thursday, Cooper said no decisions have been made as to what will be enacted when the order expires. The state plans to announce a “comprehensive plan to slow the spread” of the virus in the coming days, Cooper said.

Statewide study estimates positive cases 10-20 times ID’d cases:

An antibody study by Wake Forest Baptist Health is gathering data on more than 17,825 people as of June 15. The study has identified the rate of Covid-19 antibodies in its testing pool is falling between 8 and 10%.

Antibodies arrive between one to two weeks after being infected with Covid-19. This study indicates that nearly 10% of the state’s population has already been exposed to the virus, with a majority never showing symptoms or experiencing very mild symptoms.

The doctor leading the study told WRAL that among those who have been positively identified as having the virus, 10 and 20 times as many people have antibodies to the infection. The study is still ongoing.

Study finds masks could make vital difference:

A large study led by UNC-Chapel Hill researchers found that SARS-CoV-2 predominantly launches itself in the nasal cavity. Though the virus can make its way to the lungs, it first firmly establishes infection in the nasal cavity.

“If the nose is the dominant initial site from which lung infections are seeded, then the widespread use of masks to protect the nasal passages, as well as any therapeutic strategies that reduce virus in the nose, such as nasal irrigation or antiviral nasal sprays, could be beneficial,” study co-senior author Dr. Richard Boucher said in a UNC press release.

The study also found that people who had been previously exposed to other coronaviruses may carry other antibodies in their blood that provide partial protection against Covid-19.

Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee Still at

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