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COVID crisis worsens; cases skyrocket: ‘We’re running out of ambulances;’ Mission ICU jammed; 51 in Buncombe die in August
Thursday, 16 September 2021 19:29

From Staff Reports

A surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths is overwhelming Buncombe County’s health care system, overextending local health care workers, equipment and facilities — and producing horrific numbers unseen since the pandemic peak prior to the vaccine.

“At Mission, where the number of COVID patients has reached record levels, some patients have been turned away and rerouted to other area hospitals that are also at or near their limits,” the website reported on Sept. 12.

“Buncombe County Emergency Services is requesting that people not dial 9-1-1 unless it’s a life-or-death emergency. ‘We’re running out of ambulances,’ the agency’s director, Taylor Jones, said,” according to “‘What it looks like,’” Drew Reisinger, Buncombe County Register of Deeds, said this week, ‘is there are so many people infected, and [the delta variant of the coronavirus] is so aggressive, that our death rate is going to be on par’ with the peak numbers of last winter, before vaccines were widely available.

“Mission Health reported 166 COVID-positive patients in its six-hospital system on Thursday, including 127 at the flagship Mission Hospital in Asheville. Two months ago, the entire Mission system had just seven COVID patients,” the website noted.

The situation is so dire that, at “a Sept. 7 COVID-19 update briefing, Buncombe County Commissioner Parker Sloan read the first draft of a resolution that would require Asheville and Buncombe County schools, in addition to Mission Hospital, to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for employees,” the Asheville Citizen Times reported on Sept. 10.

Commissioners’ Chairman Brownie Newman later clarified that Sloan’s resolution was intended “for future thinking” — and that no action was taken on Sloan’s vaccine mandate proposal.

“My intent here is to tell and to ask certain employers that now is the time to try things to incentivize their employees to do that,” Sloan was quoted by the ACT as saying.

The ACT story added, “Sloan’s proposal encapsulated the urgency with which Mission health Chief Medical Officer Dr. William Hathaway spoke during the briefing about the importance of vaccinations as COVID-19 begins to infect younger populations — many of whom cannot be vaccinated.”

In his address to the commissioners, Dr. Sloan said that the age demographic for COVID patients recently has shifted so drastically that they are “far younger than they were early on” in the pandemic.

“From Aug. 24-30, roughly 20 percent of all new Buncombe COVID-19 cases were in people younger than 18,” the ACT reported. “In previous weeks, only about 14.5 percent of new COVID-19 cases were people in this age group, Buncombe Couty Public Health Director Stacie Saunders said. (To read Saunders’ latest and complete COVID-19 update to the commissioners, see story on Page A8.)

“The rise came immediately after school started Aug. 23. Within nine school days, Buncombe County and Asheville City Schools reported a collective 187 COVID-19 cases on their campuses,” the ACT stated.

During the Sept. 7 meeting, the commissioners approved $117,000 in spending for two medical assistants to coordinate COVID-19 testing, isolation and quarantine in local schools. The funding will come from temporary federal funds given to local health departments to continue efforts to keep children learning in-person.

Meanwhile, noted that, besides the huge jump in coronavirus patients at Mission, nearby Pardee UNC Health Care in Hendersonville had 25 COVID patients as of Sept. 7. “We had an average of 1 to 2 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 the first week of June,” quoted Dr. David Ellis, chief medical officer, as saying. also reported the following:

“The Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville had 27 COVID patients this week, nearly tying its record from January, said Dr. Ashfaq Ahsanuddin, chief of staff.

“‘They’re younger, they’re sicker, they’re staying longer,’ he said. ‘They’re progressing faster from being admitted and ending up on oxygen.’

“At AdventHealth Hendersonville, COVID-19 hospitalizations are ‘at or above the highest peak since the pandemic began in 2020,’ said spokeswoman Victora Dunkle. And the hospital is anticipating a post-Labor Day spike ‘that could push the numbers even higher,’ she said.

“All six of AdventHealth’s intensive care unit beds are full and the hospital is caring for critical care patients outside the ICU, Dunkle said. 

“Like most hospitals in North Carolina, we are caring for record numbers of COVID patients,” said JC Luckey Sadler, a vice president and spokeswoman for Mission Health and HCA Healthcare North Carolina....” 



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