Clinton, N.C. — The Intensive Care Unit at Sampson Regional Medical Center is 150% full and all of the patients being treated in the unit have coronavirus, health officials said.
“We are putting patients in non-ICU locations that are ICU patients, staffing and caring for them in those locations instead of our normal ICU,” said Shawn Howerton, Chief Medical Officer with Sampson County Regional Medical Center.
In the past two weeks, more than 750 people have tested positive for the virus in Sampson County, data from the state Department of Health and Human Services showed. Statewide, 25% of the nearly 4,000 North Carolinians with COVID-19 are in intensive care units and almost all of them are on a ventilator.
Each COVID-19 patient requires 12 to 14 times more liters per minute of oxygen compared to a regular patient that needs breathing support, Howerton said. Even with that amount of oxygen, patients still say they feel like they are suffocating.
“You are using so much oxygen, that the oxygen tanks start freezing on the outside,” he said.
The fire department had to be called in to spray water on 8-inch thick slabs of ice that accumulated on oxygen tanks outside the hospital. Those tanks used to need to be refilled about once a month, now they need to be refilled once a week.
“At this point, there is no end in sight,” Howerton said.
Experts anticipate that hospitalizations are only going to increase as more people travel this fall. Duke University infectious disease specialist Dr. Cameron Wolfe feels September could bring the worst of the virus that we’ve seen yet.
“You crash your car this weekend, I don’t know that I can find a bed. That’s nuts. We’ve never been in that situation before,” Dr. Wolfe said.
Statewide, only about 20% of hospital beds were available on Friday.
The hospital posted a desperate message on their Facebook page — a 2-minute long video using the voice of a healthcare worker. The nurse said that there were no beds open for people who needed care beyond COVID-19.
“This year, we are physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted,” said nurse Kassie Johnson, who works in the ICU.
The video is pleading for residents of the county to get vaccinated, for the sake of healthcare workers. Only 40% of Sampson County residents are fully vaccinated, compared to more than 60% of Wake County, state data shows.
“After giving so much last year, we have nothing left to give, and it’s still not enough,” she said.
New York Times data shows that one out of every 6 people in Sampson County have had the virus, and one out of every 529 people have died from it.
“There aren’t many wins anymore. And when there are, you still cry, because finally someone lived,” Johnson said.
Sampson County has had a 48% increase in cases and a 63% increase in hospitalizations over the past two weeks, New York Times data shows. On Friday, nearly 150 people tested positive for the virus in Sampson.
Howerton said that his staff is completely exhausted and in tears as they try and save as many people as possible as the Delta variant of coronavirus rapidly spreads among the unvaccinated.
“I have seen people who have just ended their medical career, where they do not intend to ever practice medicine again, because they are so exhausted,” he said.
Polling from Morning Consult shows that vaccine skepticism has hardly budged even as unvaccinated people are filling up ICUs and hospitals. In North Carolina, 21% of people say they are unwilling to get vaccinated. The main reasons cited for unwillingness to get vaccinated are side effects and mistrust in pharmaceutical companies.
“Wake up people, you’re not invincible, no matter how smart you think you are,” Johnson said in the video.