HIGH POINT — Wake Forest Baptist Health High Point Medical Center faces a critical point from rising COVID-19 cases, the hospital president said.
The hospital has recorded significant increases in COVID-19 patients since Thanksgiving and is having to take innovative approaches to staffing, and working with other medical centers to find beds when needed, Dr. James Hoekstra said.
“We are trying to send the message to our patients and to our community that this is pretty serious,” he told The High Point Enterprise on Tuesday afternoon. “We are pushing the limits on what we can take care of. We need to be much more committed to masking, social distancing. We need to take this COVID pandemic surge seriously.”
High Point Medical Center’s situation reflects the strain of the coronavirus pandemic on medical centers across the state and nation.
For the first eight months of the pandemic, Hoekstra said, “we did a really good job of flattening the curve so we wouldn’t have a big spike in cases and overload the hospital.”
But around the Thanksgiving holiday, Wake Forest Baptist and public health advocates noted a significant rise in COVID-19 cases in the community, which translated into more patients at the hospital.
“Those numbers have increased significantly in the last month and a half to two months,” Hoekstra said. “We’ve moved patients around the system to try to find any bed that happens to be available. Our bed situation is extremely tight.”
Hoekstra did not release details on how many COVID-19 patients the hospital has, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports each week’s seven-day average of overall patients at medical centers as well as providing some breakdowns, including the number of COVID-19 patients.
Each week from late October to Nov. 19, the average number of confirmed COVID-19 patients at High Point Medical Center ranged from 14 to 15.4. The week of Nov. 20-26, the number jumped to 24 a day. It has risen every week since then and last week stood at an average of 50.9 a day.
The largest jump came two weeks after Thanksgiving, going from an average of 32.6 a day the week of Dec. 4-10 to 41.4 a day the week of Dec. 11-17.
The strains on High Point Medical Center mean that some patients are experiencing longer waits than hospital administrators would prefer, Hoekstra told The Enterprise.
“There’s no doubt right now that our emergency departments are stretched,” he said. “But we are doing like we do always — if you are sick, we will take care of you.”
Hoekstra said he sees some reasons for optimism as the new year emerges. The spike in cases related to transmissions at Christmas and New Year’s gatherings should peak later this month or in early February, then new cases could decline if a significant number of people heed precautions about wearing masks and social distancing, Hoekstra said.
The rollout of vaccines will make a difference over time. Wake Forest Baptist medical practices locally are starting to call in patients 75 years and older eligible for the vaccine to arrange for inoculations, as doses are available, Hoekstra said.
County health departments also are administering vaccinations but face a demand that has overwhelmed the systems set up to make appointments.
The first part of this year represents a critical period for the direction of the pandemic, Hoekstra said.
“You’ve got a couple more months to go now to get through this,” he said. “We need to stick with the program in terms of what you are doing with social distancing and masking.”
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TRINITY — The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed another locally owned eatery, dashing an Archdale couple’s lifelong dream in the process.
The Sugar Rush Sweets n’ Treats Cafe, a popular diner in Trinity, will close this weekend, a casualty of dwindling patronage caused by the pandemic. The cafe officially closes at 9 p.m. Saturday.
“We’ve been doing everything we can to try to keep the business going, but we just can’t do it anymore,” said Jeff Boyd, who co-owns The Sugar Rush with his wife, Missy. “We took out a (Paycheck Protection Program) loan, but it wasn’t substantial enough to carry us over. We’ve done all we can do.”
The Sugar Rush opened in Thomasville about two years ago as a dessertery but moved about a year ago to its current location on N.C. 62, across from Braxton Craven Middle School. The move to Trinity — in a building formerly occupied by Trinity Grill — allowed the couple to expand from selling only desserts to running a full-fledged cafe.
“We’d been driving by this place for 19 years, and we finally caught it open,” Boyd said, explaining that he and his wife have lived in this area for 19 years.
“It’s always been our dream to have a little cafe and grill to do homemade cooking. It’s country-style — beans and taters and cornbread, stuff like that, food we were raised on. My wife can cook just about anything.”
According to Boyd, business was booming until mid-March, when the pandemic gripped the country and began scaring customers away.
“We’re not a very big place — I think we can seat about 30 or something like that — so with guidelines and social distancing, we can’t get people far enough apart to where they’re comfortable,” Boyd said.
The Sugar Rush shut down around May for about a month and a half, then reopened, but business simply hasn’t picked up enough for the couple to keep the place open, Boyd said. They’d been considering closing for the past month before finally making the decision last week, he added.
“Everybody’s been saying, ‘Oh, we hate to hear it,’ but nobody hates it more than me,” Boyd said. “We’ve put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this place. We invested everything we had here.”
Closing represents the end of a dream for the couple.
“It’s heartbreaking to lose a dream that you’ve had for a very long time,” Boyd said. “We don’t know what we’re gonna do next. We were hoping this pandemic would go away by spring — and if it does, we might still try to open back up somewhere else — but I kinda doubt it. We feel like this is probably the end.”
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GUILFORD COUNTY — The Guilford County Board of Education put the brakes on bringing more students back to in-person classroom instruction Tuesday night in the face of rapidly rising COVID-19 cases.
The school board received a status report on the classroom reentry plan from school district administrators during its meeting. All elementary grades have returned to classrooms.
But the board voted 5-4 to delay bringing back middle and high school students as members expressed grave concerns about trends with viral infections.
Sixth-grade students were supposed to resume in-person instruction Jan. 21, while seventh- and eighth-grade students were to return Jan. 25. High school students in ninth through 12th grades would have come back Jan. 21.
Now middle and high school students will remain in remote learning for at least the next three weeks. They have learned remotely since the onset of the pandemic this past March.
“I’m struggling with going too fast too far,” said Republican board member Linda Welborn.
Prior to the board’s vote, school system Chief of Staff Nora Carr said more than 20,000 students have restarted classroom instruction. But so far, the school district has recorded one cluster at a school with five or more linked infections.
“Schools are not contributing to community spread,” Carr said, adding that reality has been reflected at schools across the state and nation.
Carr said the lack of COVID-19 spread shows that extensive public health and safety protocols are paying off in school buildings.
School board Democratic Chairwoman Deena Hayes said more than 73% of kindergarten through fifth-grade students have returned to in-classroom instruction, with the remainder sticking with remote learning.
The lack of COVID-19 spread in schools is backed up by a recent academic study of the pandemic’s reach in a sample of North Carolina school districts.
The risk of spreading COVID-19 in schools appears to be low as long as protocols such as face masks, social distancing and hand-washing are strictly followed, the study finds.
Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University studied 11 school systems that kept schools open for at least nine weeks with students attending in-person classes twice a week and schools at partial capacity. The researchers reported on their findings in this week’s edition of Pediatrics, the journal of The American Academy of Pediatrics.
The schools in the study reported a total of 773 community-acquired infections among their nearly 100,000 students and staff. That normally could be expected to translate into 800 to 900 new infections acquired at schools, but the researchers found just 32 cases.
Other practices that appeared to have benefits included daily health screenings, efficient contact tracing and close collaboration with health departments, the researchers said.
Prior to the school board vote, researchers with the ABC Science Collaborative made a presentation Tuesday night on its recent North Carolina schools study as well as other COVID-19 research.
One researcher who spoke to the board is Dr. Kanecia Obie Zimmerman, co-chairwoman of the ABC Collaborative who attended High Point Central High School as a teenager. She’s now with the Duke University School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics.
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