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Hospitals Curtail Services as COVID Cases Surge to Record Levels

Unvaccinated patients fill beds as hospital workers fall ill

Slide presentation by Dr. William Hathaway, chief medical officer of HCA Mission. The latest surge began just after Christmas. // Screengrab, with added arrow, by Asheville Watchdog

Local hospitals, including Mission, are once again reeling under a perfect storm of pandemic pressures: record infection rates, overwhelmingly among people who refuse to be vaccinated; a sudden spike in the number of healthcare workers who are infected, on top of an already critical staffing shortage; and a shortage of COVID-19 test kits.

The latest surge began Dec. 27, following Christmas gatherings, William Hathaway, Mission’s chief medical officer, reported to the hospital’s medical staff on Monday. Children and people under the age of 44 are among the fastest-growing groups of patients, he said, and the rise in infected doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers who care for them was almost literally off the charts.

State and local official reports indicate that there are now more COVID-19 infections in the Asheville metropolitan area than at any time since the pandemic began two years ago.

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COVID Surge: 51 Dead in August. ‘We’re running out of ambulances’

Record Number of Cases Reported at Mission

Death certificate for one of 24 COVID victims who died at Mission in late August

Jessica Vaughn, a 33-year-old mother of five, was found dead in her Asheville apartment. The cause: COVID-19.

Brianna Justus, a 31-year-old expectant mother, went from healthy to COVID intensive care patient at Mission Hospital in less than a week. Her baby, delivered by emergency cesarean section, survived. Brianna Justus did not.

Thomas Turner of West Asheville waited nearly two hours at an urgent care center without being seen before driving himself to Mission, his family said. He never made it inside. Turner, 59, died in the parking lot while his wife, who also had COVID, was being treated in the emergency room.

Their deaths are just a few from a current surge that is overwhelming Buncombe County’s health care system, taxing already exhausted doctors and nurses, and afflicting a large swath of Western North Carolina in numbers not seen since the pre-vaccine pandemic peak.

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