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'We need your immediate help': NC health care workers say they're overwhelmed by COVID surge

In an open letter to all North Carolinians, health care workers across the state say we're at a critical juncture as omicron drives record COVID-19 hospitalizations.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Health care workers across North Carolina are asking for everyone's help in slowing the spread of COVID-19 as the omicron variant drives record hospitalizations statewide

The North Carolina Healthcare Association issued an open letter to North Carolinians that says this is a critical point in the pandemic and explains how everyone's personal decisions can affect the entire community. 

"The omicron variant is highly infectious," the letter reads. "While it might cause only mild illnesses for some people, including some who have been vaccinated, our hospitals are filling up fast with COVID patients -- a vast majority of whom are unvaccinated. The situation is putting daily strain on our ability to care for those who have other urgent medical needs that are not COVID-related. It is heartbreaking, which is why we are reaching out to you."

Click here to read the full letter issued by the NCHA

It comes as COVID-19 metrics climb to record-breaking heights.

"This is the highest hospitalizations we’ve seen, it’s the highest case rate we’ve seen, it’s the highest positivity rate we’ve seen," Tatyana Kelly with the North Carolina Healthcare Association told WCNC Charlotte. "We’re very lucky that the omicron variant is not as severe, but it doesn’t mean that there are no hospitalizations."

Leaders with Atrium Health, Novant Health and CaroMont Health all signed the letter.

Officials said medical staffing is the biggest challenge. Nurses and doctors are constantly exposed and getting sick themselves. The patients they're treating are overwhelmingly unvaccinated and many medical experts believe this surge was preventable.

“I don’t know that there’s a great way to quantify or qualify for folks who are not in healthcare how draining that is, how discouraging that is and how depressing that is," Kelly said.

The CDC estimates that omicron is now responsible for 98% of new infections. On Thursday, the Department of Health and Human Services reported that 4,098 people were hospitalized due to the virus. That's the most COVID-related hospitalizations since the pandemic began. 

President Joe Biden announced Thursday that the federal government plans to send military medical personnel to hospitals in six states to help overwhelmed hospitals. Starting next week, 1,000 personnel will begin arriving. This is in response to some states allowing workers infected with COVID-19 to remain on the job due to staffing shortages. 

Mecklenburg County's most recent data showed 36% of tests were positive on Jan. 11. That rate has slightly decreased over the last two days. 

The letter released by the NCHA encourages everyone to get vaccinated or boosted if eligible as soon as possible. Everyone 5 and older is eligible to be vaccinated, while all people who are at least 12 years old can be boosted. 

Health officials say the omicron variant is creating different symptoms in kids than adults, as childhood cases continue to rise. Dr. Amina Ahmed, an infectious disease expert with Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte, says they're not seeing the sudden loss of smell or taste, which was predominant with the delta variant. 

"In children what we're seeing is a croup-like presentation, and croup is really inflammation of the upper airways as opposed to the lower airways, like your lungs," Ahmed said. 

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