Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist said Tuesday it is barring visitors under age 18 — effective immediately — as part of its latest response to the community surge of the delta variant.
The restrictions on those ages 17 and younger apply to inpatient, outpatient, maternity, emergency department and surgical services areas.
It affects the main Atrium Wake Forest Baptist campus in Winston-Salem, as well as community hospitals in Bermuda Run, High Point, Lexington and Wilkesboro.
The policy was not updated, however, at Atrium’s facilities in the Charlotte area.
“Parents or guardians are asked to only bring children as visitors to outpatient visits if childcare is not available,” the system said in a brief statement.
All visitors remain required to pass a health screening and properly wear a mask that covers the nose, mouth and chin at all times.
No visitors are permitted for adult patients who are COVID-19 positive, and for those suspected of having COVID-19. There is an exception for individuals in end-of-life situations.
Families with special situations should contact their care team. Full visitation guidelines can be found at www.wakehealth.edu/Coronavirus/Visitor-Restrictions.
Baptist could not be immediately reached for comment on whether the surge in key COVID-19 metrics for children and youths played a role in the tightened restrictions.
Local infectious diseases experts have said recently that those ages 17 and younger represent between 25% and 30% of all new delta variant cases, while the statewide percentage is closer to 33%.
Novant Health Inc. and Cone Health said Tuesday they have not updated their visitor restrictions to reinstate similar no-children visitor policies.
In July 2020, Cone paused allowing people under age 18 to visit its hospitals.
The three systems had relaxed some COVID-19 visitor restrictions on March 15, including allowing for two visitors per patient.
However, the community spread of the delta variant led each system to tighten their visitor restrictions during August.
Key COVID-19 metrics remain elevated, but fell slightly in Forsyth County and statewide, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday in its latest report on the pandemic.
Forsyth was listed with 190 new cases, but no additional COVID-19 related deaths.
Since the pandemic began, Forsyth has had 45,966 cases and 479 COVID-19-related deaths.
Over the past three weeks, the county has reported 5,219 new cases and 40 deaths.
DHHS lists COVID-19 cases and deaths on the day they are confirmed by medical providers and public health officials, so people may have been infected or may have died days or weeks before their cases were counted.
DHHS listed the state with having 4,760 new cases Monday, compared with 5,346 on Sunday, 7,207 on Saturday, 11,337 on Friday and 5,877 on Thursday.
DHHS said Monday’s report was affected by a technical issue that underreported some key COVID-19 metrics last week.
Still, Friday’s new case count was the third highest total for the pandemic. The highest new case count is the 12,079 reported on Feb. 3. DHHS has attributed that surge in statewide cases to belated reporting by FastMed Urgent Care.
Across North Carolina, there have been 1.31 million COVID-19 cases and 15,305 deaths since the pandemic began, the death count up 58 from Monday’s report.
In recent weeks, local and state health officials have said that between 90% and 94% of all COVID-19-related hospitalizations are among unvaccinated people or vaccinated people who have health conditions that put them at risk
As recently as July 6, statewide hospitalizations were as low as 231.
As of noon Tuesday, DHHS listed 3,690 COVID-19-related hospitalizations statewide, up 176 from Monday’s report.
The all-time high for COVID-19 hospitalizations was 3,990 on Jan. 14 — when the vaccine was available publicly on a very limited basis.
The 17-county Triad and Northwest N.C. region has a combined 864 COVID-19 patients, up eight from Monday.
As of noon Tuesday, North Carolina had 955 adults in the ICU with COVID-19 — the highest total for the pandemic.
Statewide, 701 patients were on ventilators, which represent an all-time high for the pandemic.
The latest statewide positive test rate was 13%, based on 49,750 tests conducted Sunday.
For Forsyth, the most recent positive test rate was 13.1%. DHHS no longer provide daily testing total at the county level.
Dr. David Priest, an infectious diseases expert with Novant Health Inc., said Tuesday that all system hospitals continue to experience high volumes of COVID-19 patients.
“The percentage of positive test cases remains high in our hospitals, but some have reached a plateau and a slow trend down in our inpatient volumes,” Priest said.
The positive test rate was 17% in the Triad and 14% in the Charlotte area.
ICU bed capacity
Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, Cone Health and Novant Health Inc. have said they have bed capacity, either internally or with affiliated hospitals, to handle the current community surge.
However, Novant’s Thomasville Medical Center recently has had to divert patients to other Novant facilities.
The Triad’s three main hospitals are experiencing low to very low levels of available beds in intensive-care units, another dire ripple effect from surge of infections of the delta variant of COVID-19 during the past six weeks.
An interactive map by the New York Times, updated to reflect adult ICU bed occupancy and number of COVID-19 patients as of Sept. 9, showed the Triad’s three main hospitals with ICU occupancy rates far higher than the national average.
Those ICU beds are filled with patients with and without COVID-19-related illnesses.
Forsyth Medical Center had 166 patients with COVID-19 related illnesses. There were only five ICU beds available, for a 95% ICU occupancy rate.
Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center had 89 COVID-19 patients. There were 10 ICU beds available, for a 90% ICU occupancy rate.
At Cone Health, there were 140 COVID-19 patients. There were 22 ICU beds available for a 79% ICU occupancy rate.
The average North Carolina occupancy rate is 87%, while the national average ICU occupancy rate is 68%, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data.
In recent weeks, local and state health officials have said between 92% and 96% of all COVID-19-related hospitalizations are among unvaccinated individuals or vaccinated individuals who have health conditions.
DHHS says 62% of adult North Carolinians are fully vaccinated.
When including 12- to 17-year-olds, 60% of North Carolinians are fully vaccinated statewide.
About 4.99 million North Carolinians have gotten two doses of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, while 405,063 have gotten the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
As of noon Tuesday, 216,346 Forsyth residents were at least partially vaccinated, or 57% of all residents. That includes 199,449 residents — or 52% of all residents — who are fully vaccinated.
By comparison, Guilford County is at 54% fully vaccinated, Durham County at 62%, Wake County at 63% and Mecklenburg County at 54%.
Priest said that more than 95% of Novant’s 35,000 employees “are in compliance” with its fully vaccination policy. It has about 8,145 employees in Forsyth County.
There are some exceptions for medical and religious reasons.
The Triad’s three primary healthcare systems have not disclosed what actions, if any, they would take with employees who declined to be fully vaccinated.