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Virginia hits record high in COVID-19 hospitalizations, affecting healthcare operations

More than 3,300 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in Virginia, the highest number since the pandemic began.

NORFOLK, Va. — There are more people in Virginia hospitalized with COVID-19 right now than at any other point in the pandemic.

The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association (VHAA) reports 3,329 patients are currently receiving treatment for COVID-19, including patients who tested positive and patients whose test results are pending.

Industry leaders said the record high is putting a strain on hospital systems and healthcare workers.

"Elevated hospitalizations are never an encouraging sign," said Julian Walker of VHHA. "Given the trajectory we’re on, there’s at least the possibility where things could escalate to the point where the system is strained to its limits."

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Sentara Healthcare is postponing non-emergent surgeries due to the surge in hospitalizations starting Monday, Jan. 10. Hospital leaders said the action would allow the healthcare system to reassign team members to areas with a more urgent need.

The previous high for Virginia COVID-19 hospitalizations was reported in January 2020.

Walker said the current situation is serious, but not dire just yet.

However, modeling suggests hospitalizations may keep rising for a few more weeks, causing other healthcare leaders to join Sentara in taking preventative or difficult actions.

"It could be a number of things, it could be halting or scaling back on certain procedures to free up bed space, it could be things like redeploying staff," Walker told 13News Now.

Locally, Sentara Healthcare, Riverside Health System and Chesapeake Regional Healthcare all report high, if not unprecedented, numbers of COVID-19 patients.

Hospital leaders encouraged more people to get fully vaccinated to help reduce the strain on healthcare workers.

"The data from our hospital members across the Commonwealth clearly show the majority of patients who are hospitalized now in this current wave of the pandemic are those who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated," Walker said.

Frequently, hospitalization counts lag a few days behind rising case numbers.

As case counts are increasing daily, Walker said the limits of beds and healthcare workers could be tested this month.

"There’s no disputing this is placing significant, considerable strain on the system and the people that work in the system," he said.

Health care leaders said people should only go to the emergency room in a crisis or immediate-need situation, and not for mild symptoms or a COVID-19 test.

They said these types of emergency room visits can delay care for people in emergency situations.

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