Charlotte-area hospitals join forces to urge COVID-19 vaccinations ahead of Labor Day weekend. (Photo Credit: Jeff Siner)

Charlotte-area doctors issued dire warnings ahead of Labor Day weekend travel and gatherings, urging North Carolinians to get the COVID-19 vaccine amid a surge in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and even deaths.

”Quite frankly, beds are scarce,” Novant Health chief clinical officer Dr. Sid Fletcher said Thursday morning. “We are running short on resources.”

The Charlotte area’s three largest health care systems — Atrium Health, Novant Health and CaroMont Health — teamed up Thursday to issue a rare joint warning about the surge in COVID-19 cases locally. That surge is largely fueled by high numbers of unvaccinated residents and the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19.

The vast majority of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths lately are among unvaccinated people, according to the hospital groups.

Close to 1,000 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in Atrium, Novant and CaroMont facilities in the Charlotte-area, according to the hospital systems. CaroMont is based in Gastonia.

And 857 out of 933 hospitalized patients — or 92 percent — are unvaccinated. Just 76 of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are vaccinated.

Of 126 patients on life support, 122 — or 97 percent — are unvaccinated, according to the three hospital systems.

Hospitals At or Nearing Capacity

Local hospitals are “incredibly full,” Fletcher said.

Hospital systems can add more bed space, and they have adequate PPE and other equipment, he said. But the biggest issues will be providing adequate staffing, he said.

“We are at or nearing capacity at all of our facilities,” Fletcher said. “We’re very challenged and we are going to need your help within the local community, so that we can make sure that we’re caring for you effectively.”

The biggest burden on hospital systems is being brought in by unvaccinated people, Atrium health infectious disease expert Dr. Katie Passaretti said.

Local hospitals are as busy as “an incredibly busy winter — only a little worse than that,” Fletcher said.

Still, hospital groups are not canceling non-immediate surgeries across the system. Instead, physicians are considering those procedures on a case-by-case basis, hospital officials said.

There also is heightened concern nationally about the coronavirus as health officials prepare for Labor Day travel. On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning asking unvaccinated people to avoid traveling during Labor Day weekend.

Local doctors echoed that recommendation Thursday, asking unvaccinated people to reconsider travel plans and avoid large gatherings during the holiday weekend.

Increase in COVID-19 Deaths

For roughly three months, Mecklenburg was reporting fewer than 10 new COVID-19 deaths each week. But in the last three weeks, the number of people dying due to COVID-19 has increased to double-digits.

Last week, Mecklenburg reported 22 new deaths related to COVID-19, according to an Observer analysis of county data. And just over the last weekend, 12 people died of the coronavirus in the county, according to Mecklenburg.

On Monday, several new deaths were reported, Mecklenburg deputy health director Dr. Raynard Washington tweeted. All of those people — including multiple “very young adults” were unvaccinated, he added.

COVID Vaccination Rates

In Mecklenburg, 57 percent of county residents have gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Just half of North Carolina residents are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

That’s not nearly enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19, local doctors have said.

“Getting a friend vaccinated, encouraging people to wear masks when they’re out in public settings indoors is just hugely important right now,” Passaretti said.

 This article originally appeared in the Charlotte Observer.

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