Another COVID-19 figure on the rise: NC ventilator use reaches pandemic heights

RALEIGH, NC (WNCN) – Another key number is increasing due to the COVID-19 delta variant: the number of hospital patients with coronavirus who are on ventilators.

State hospitals have received a total of more than 600 ventilated patients for 16 consecutive days – and every day in September – according to data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

The single-day total peaked at 661 on September 8, and has been at 650 or more every day since then, but only once.

To put that in context, during the winter push – when most of the pandemic’s worst statistics have occurred – on a single day that number surpassed 500.

“We are also seeing an increase in the number of patients we are taking care of, and they are also the ones who need ventilators,” said Dr Christine Vigeland, instructor in the division of lung diseases at the UNC School of Medicine. Chapel Hill.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services says 18% of hospital patients – or, more than one in 6 – across the state are on ventilators. This is the highest figure in exactly one calendar year – it was 18% on September 13, 2020.

“We have patients in the intensive care unit who are in their thirties, forties, fifties, barely 20 years old, with no other medical history, and we just haven’t seen that at this point in the winter. “said Vigeland. .

At this point, North Carolina isn’t likely to run out of fans. North Carolina health officials said only 1,633 of the nearly 3,500 across the state were in use on Monday.

But as the number continues to rise, it exposes the dwindling number of nurses qualified enough to operate them, Vigeland said.

“It takes a tremendous amount of expertise to keep this patient alive,” she said. “You need respiratory therapists, nurses, and all of that requires special training.

“There are a limited number of people who can safely handle this type of machine – if it falls, it’s an emergency,” she added. “And so we have to make sure that patients are as safe as possible. “

The process of putting a patient on a ventilator can be quite invasive.

“Putting someone on a ventilator means we think they are not able to breathe on their own, even despite maximum amounts of oxygen,” Vigeland said.

The patient is heavily sedated and a tube is placed in the patient’s mouth and trachea as quickly as possible, she said. This patient remains sedated “to keep them safe and comfortable the entire time they are on a ventilator,” she added.

“We find that with patients with COVID their lungs are so sick that they have to be basically completely sedated, not moving at all,” Vigeland said. “And in some cases even paralyzed, in order to take full advantage of the benefits of the ventilator.”

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