A few weeks after COVID-19 cases began surging in Columbus County, hospitalizations have now drastically increased. And the hospital expects them to continue to climb.
“Omicron is much more contagious and is affecting a larger number of individuals,” said Jason Beck, interim chief executive officer and president of Columbus Regional Healthcare System. “With the rapid daily growth of positive cases in our community, we expect a continued increase of hospitalizations over the coming weeks.”
In the last week, Columbus County has seen 702 COVID-19 cases, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In addition, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety reported 74 active cases and 369 recoveries at Tabor Correctional Institution, along with four active cases and 169 recoveries at Columbus Correctional Institution.
The county also has two new outbreaks in congregate living facilities: Liberty Commons with four staff cases and Shoreland with one resident and three staff cases, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
As of Thursday morning, Columbus Regional Healthcare System had 26 COVID-19 inpatients, with four in the ICU, according to spokesperson Stephanie Miller.
However, that’s 30% of the hospital’s total admissions. “We are not at or near our capacity,” Miller said. “If anyone needs emergency care, we are here.”
Over the last two years, the hospital has increased its capacity by expanding into two floors and converting office space into beds. At the end of August, at the height of the delta variant, CRHS had 46 inpatients.
“While we are seeing an increase in admissions, thus far the severity of illness seems less severe when comparing it to the previous delta variant,” Beck said. “It is too soon to say if this will hold true, but at the moment we are cautiously optimistic.”
Most of the recent COVID-19 admissions are of unvaccinated individuals, according to Beck.
The CDC website states that 54.5% of Columbus County residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, 42.6% are fully vaccinated and 21.6% are boosted.
“We cannot more emphatically underscore the importance of vaccination and getting a booster,” Beck said.
In the last week, almost 31% of tests conducted in Columbus County have come back positive, according to the CDC. That’s around 9% higher than last week.
Columbus Regional Healthcare System is currently out of rapid tests, but does have PCR tests that produce results around 24 hours later, according to Miller. Individuals must schedule appointments for testing by calling 910-642-1570.
People can look for COVID-19 tests at St. Mark AME Zion Church in Whiteville, Goshen clinics throughout the county, Walgreens, CVS and urgent care centers, according to Health Director Kim Smith last week.
Schools respond to rising cases
Columbus County Schools had 187 new positive tests and 58 new quarantines due to school exposure in the three-day period beginning Jan. 10, according to a spreadsheet released Thursday morning. The highest counts were at East Columbus Jr.-Sr. High School, with 33 cases and 17 quarantines, and West Columbus High, with 23 cases and 21 quarantines. There were no campuses without cases. Schools with the lowest counts were Tabor City Elementary, with three cases and no quarantines, and Columbus Career and College Academy, with two cases and no quarantines.
Whiteville City Schools did not provide case or quarantine information Thursday, and all its students were in virtual instruction.
Classical Charter School of Whiteville reported 13 active cases diagnosed during the 10-day period ending Tuesday.
Thomas Academy students were in virtual instruction this week and the school was to make an announcement today (Friday) about plans for next week.
Columbus Christian Academy did not provide an update by presstime Thursday.
— Includes reporting by Diana Matthews