Raleigh, N.C. — The number of coronavirus-related deaths in North Carolina continues to spike, and the state on Thursday surpassed 9,000 deaths during the pandemic.
Another 131 deaths were reported Thursday, marking the sixth time in eight days the state has topped 100. That period has become the deadliest for the state since the pandemic began last March, with 846 deaths since Jan. 21.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the state didn’t record 846 deaths until almost three months had passed.
“Over the past week in and half, one of the days was the highest we have had in deaths in our hospital over the whole pandemic,” said Dr. Brian Burrows, director of the emergency department at Duke Regional Hospital, in Durham.
“The tough part about it is just seeing people not with their loved ones when they are at their last breaths,” Burrows said. “You have people who are too sick to hold an iPad to talk with their families.”
At WakeMed in Raleigh, pulmonary and critical care specialist Dr. Sachin Patel said the death certificates are adding up.
“We will have a day when almost four people pass – some of them older, some of them young enough to be our brothers and sisters,” Patel said.
Eighty-three percent of the deaths to date were people ages 65 and up. That group is now at the front of the line for vaccinations against the virus. Less than 4 percent of the deaths were in people under age 50.
Still, Burrows said, the virus can strike people one wouldn’t expect.
“When you see someone the same age as you get intubated for this virus, it strikes you as, ‘Oh my gosh,'” he said.
The numbers of new infections and COVID-19 hospitalizations has stabilized in recent days after surging in early January following holidays in which many people ignored public health officials’ advice to avoid traveling and gathering with family and friends.
The 3,238 people being treated for the virus in hospitals across North Carolina on Thursday was the fewest since Dec. 27, and the seven-day average of 3,361 COVID-19 hospital patients is the lowest since New Year’s Day.
About 7.9 percent of coronavirus tests reported Thursday were positive, which is the lowest level in more than two months.
Another 6,490 new coronavirus cases were reported statewide Thursday, but the rolling, seven-day average of new cases has dropped from 8,654 a day on Jan. 12 to 5,843 a day now, marking the first time since Jan. 1 that the average has been below 6,000 a day.
“It was predicted, and unfortunately we were right: The cases went way up, the hospitalizations went way up, and the deaths have gone way up as well,” said Rachel Roper, an associate professor at East Carolina University’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology.
Dr. Shannon Carson, division chief of Pulmonary Diseases and Critical Care Medicine at the UNC School of Medicine, said virus-related deaths are the final metric to spike after infections and hospitalizations.
“After a week or two, they might need to be hospitalized,” Carson said, adding that someone might be moved to an intensive care unit after four or five days in the hospital. “Almost 30 percent of them, if they reach the intensive care unit, will not survive hospitalization.”
“The COVID cases, they can be in [hospitals] for weeks, and they can be on the ventilators for weeks – and in some cases, I have heard months – and then the the people can die quite a bit longer after they get infected,” Roper said.
Patel said people need to understand how dangerous the virus can be.
“This is far from over,” he said. “We are really in the middle of it now, and it is going to get worse in March.”