Cone Health officials see alarming amount of COVID patients over last month, expect to see increase continue


GREENSBORO, N.C. — 146 people are currently hospitalized at the Moses Cone Hospital with the coronavirus, according to medical officials.

Bruce Swords, the chief medical officer with Cone Health, says back in the middle of September, there were around 35 to 40 patients in hospitals.

The reproduction rate at that time was less than one.

NC health officials say the increasing amount of patients hospitalized with the coronavirus is alarming and expected to increase further.

“You can really see this dramatic increase over the past two and a half, three months,” Swords said. “That has been a concern.”

Data analysts predict North Carolina could see more than 200 to 300 COVID patients in the hospital sometime in early 2021 and beyond.

“It really is a bigger concern for the community because what that means is that the pandemic would be raging out of control where we may have to take some drastic actions to get the pandemic back under control,” Swords said.

Current models are based on how many people are infected right now and the reproduction rate of the virus

“In North Carolina now, our analysts would say the reproduction rate is about 1.2. So if I have it, I’m giving it to 1.2 more people,” Swords said.

Swords says patients are currently being cared for at other Cone Health facilities.

“They all have the best care, but it is stretching our capacity to take care of these folks,” Swords said. “We also know that we can expand the number of patients up to a certain amount. All that would have negative pressure rooms, and so we’ve created all these plans. Nothing would thrill us more than not having to utilize those plans.”

Plans are being made to expand care for patients at the Alamanace Regional Medical Center, Wesley Long, Moses Cone and the Annie Penn Hospital in Reidsville.

Swords says he is hopeful the ventilator capacity won’t be stretched and that as of now, health officials have the ventilators and PPE they need.

“But when we start predicting 200, 300 patients, that certainly impacts our PPE consumption, and whether the supply chain is robust enough for us to continue to get PPE is yet to be seen,” Swords said.

Every hospital system in North Carolina is stretched amid the pandemic, but Swords says health officials haven’t reached the point where they would have to share staff yet.

“It isn’t like there’s this magical body of folks who can respond to this pandemic,” Swords said. “Everyone is working very hard right now.”

He urged North Carolinians to help stop the spread of the virus in their community by taking the pandemic as seriously as they possibly can.

“This is one continuous tidal wave, and it is concerning to think how are we going to take care of 250 patients in our health system,” Swords said. “It will be a real challenge. Cone Health will meet that challenge if we have to. It sure would be nice not to have to meet that.”

Health officials are hopeful vaccines will be available for distribution in North Carolina soon.

“We also think that those vaccines will be required to be given to frontline healthcare workers first. And so that will be our plan, and the federal government and state government will have a role in who really is prioritized,” Swords said. “This pandemic really is a crisis, and it’s a crisis because there are too many people who are unnecessarily suffering from this disease and too many people are, frankly, dying from it.”

The hospital system is still exploring options when it comes to visitor restrictions. No decisions have been announced at this time.

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