Aug 24, 2021 - Business

COVID in Charlotte will get worse before it gets better, Atrium Health says

Atrium Health

Photo: Axios Charlotte archives

Atrium Health expects COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations to keep rising for the next two to four weeks before they start declining, Dr. Katie Passaretti said during the hospital’s quarterly board meeting Tuesday.

  • Much depends on how the Delta variant behaves in other places.
  • “It’s going to get a little bit worse before it starts getting better,” said Passaretti, Atrium’s medical director of infection prevention.

Why it matters: Atrium, which is both the largest employer in Charlotte and the largest health care provider in the region, continues to emphasize the strain that unvaccinated individuals are having on its hospitals.

  • Across the Atrium Health enterprise, 153 patients are on ventilators. About 94% of those — or 144 — were not vaccinated, Atrium leaders said.
  • Vaccination rates range from about 32% to 48% across Atrium’s footprint. The transmissibility of the Delta variant is hitting the hospital system hard, Passaretti said.
  • This means healthcare workers are exhausted mentally and physically, she added. “We’re dealing with burnout, we’re dealing with morale issues.”

“We’re rising to peak faster than we did in the past, and also patients are getting sicker faster,” Atrium CEO Gene Woods said.

Here are a few other takeaways from the board meeting, during which Atrium leaders also discussed finances and ongoing projects, like its Charlotte medical school:

  • Since June, people of color have made up over half of the people who’ve been vaccinated through Atrium. Woods calls that “a huge bright spot.” A third of those vaccinations have gone to African Americans, he added.
  • COVID patients are getting sicker than they used to. Earlier in the pandemic, 20% of patients hospitalized needed ICU care, Passaretti said. Now, that number has increased to 30% in the recent wave.
  • North Carolina’s gone from a low of 368 hospitalizations to more than 3,300 today; South Carolina’s gone from a low of 122 to 1,942 now. That’s a nine-fold and 15-fold increase, respectively, noted Passaretti.
  • Woods said Atrium will have more to share in coming months about the innovation district it’s building in midtown alongside the medical school. “It really is a new chapter for us as an organization,” he said.
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