As Sampson County sees increased cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant, there is still low acceptance, primarily among the youth and young adult populations, to becoming vaccinated. Hospital resources across the country are again strained due to increased patient volume related to the COVID-19 virus. The average age for hospitalized COVID-19 patients is 44 years old, a dramatic decrease compared to hospitalizations during the first wave. Sampson Regional Medical Center is now seeing more young and middle-aged adults who are unvaccinated, and it pleas with the community for help.
"We're experiencing a dramatic increase in the Delta variant COVID-19 infections in our community and state. In our community, 100% of COVID infections are Delta, and it's hospitalizing younger patients than seen with the Alpha variant," said Dr. Shawn Howerton, Chief Executive and Chief Medical Officer. "Daily, we receive regional data on hospitalizations due to COVID-19; the trends we see for occupied ICU beds and ventilator usage concern me deeply," Howerton expressed.
As of August 19, regional data shows an increase in hospital census and vent capacity comparable to the peak experienced earlier in the year. The statewide COVID hospital census was 3,083, up 153 in only one day. Daily regional analysis of most current data shows that 71% of all staffed ICU beds are occupied with COVID patients. All patients together, our region is using 94% of its staffed ICU beds. Additionally, COVID patients occupy 22.4% of general adult beds in our region, with the overall bed capacity reaching 83%. The region is at 35% of its vent capacity, now exceeding the percent capacity used during the winter peak.
The concern, Howerton emphasized, is that the region has not yet reached the peak in terms of total hospitalizations, yet hospitals are approaching or exceeding the same bed and vent capacity used during the height of the Alpha variant. "These numbers are very troubling when comparing to where we were during the peak of the Alpha variant. To put this into perspective, 50% of ICU beds were used during the winter peak compared to 71% occupied now. In addition, as mentioned, we have already exceeded the vent capacity, which is now at 35%," explained Howerton.
While the start of school is upon us, vaccination of those age 12 and up is still lagging. Of Sampson County individuals ages 12 and up, only 38% are fully vaccinated. The highest spread of cases and bad outcomes is happening in counties with low vaccination rates. Virtually all hospitalizations and deaths have been among the unvaccinated.
As COVID cases continue rising, hospitals across the country face difficult decisions to suspend elective procedures and adjust hospital operations to manage supply and staffing resources for the care of COVID patients. During the winter peak, some hospitals throughout the country did not have enough ventilators for all patients needing them. "Of all the challenging decisions we've made in the last year, choosing who gets a ventilator hasn't been one of them," said Howerton. "It's scary to already see that on the horizon," Howerton emphasized.
As the vaccination rate stalls in Sampson County and across the country, the number of COVID cases continues rising. Of the individuals hospitalized, the majority are unvaccinated. While breakthrough cases of Delta have been reported in vaccinated individuals, most experience mild symptoms that can be managed at home, comparable to a seasonal cold or flu infection.
The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are over 95% effective at preventing the Alpha variant COVID infections and 70-88% effective at preventing Delta variant infections, depending on the amount of virus in the community. More importantly, Howerton emphasized that the two vaccines are more than 95% effective at preventing COVID-19 related hospitalization and death among those who become infected. "It shows us just how valuable these vaccines are to ending this pandemic," Howerton exclaimed.
For information on locations offering the COVID-19 vaccine in our community visit, www.SampsonRMC.org/VaccinateSampson.