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Watauga Medical Center Sees Another Spike in COVID-19 Cases with Holiday Season Gatherings

By Harley Nefe

COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to rise in most parts of the country, including right here in Watauga County. Watauga Medical Center is close to its max capacity in its COVID-19 unit.

On Christmas Day, there were 15 patients in the COVID-19 unit. As of Dec. 30, there were 28 patients in the COVID-19 unit. The unit can currently hold up to 34 patients battling the virus.

In one week, Watauga Medical Center went from having 38 total patients to 88 patients.

Much like what happened after the Thanksgiving holiday, hospital staff are expecting to see the number of COVID-19 cases continue to rapidly rise because of the holidays.

“We are very concerned that people got together over the holidays, and they’re off work and they’re off routine,” said Rob Hudspeth, Senior Vice President of System Advancement at Appalachian Regional Healthcare System. 

The average length of stay across all hospital patients in 3.2 days. The average length of stay for a COVID-19 patient is 6.8 days.

Hudspeth explained that hospital personnel can’t discharge COVID-19 patients sooner because there’s so much uncertainty with the virus.

The majority of the patients hospitalized for COVID-19 are elderly; however, the hospital has been seeing high rates of infection across all age groups over the last few weeks.

In addition to the public, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System has also seen a number of employees be infected.

“My hope is that everyone who can get vaccinated does,” Hudspeth said. “It’s our best chance against this virus.”

Appalachian Regional Healthcare System has already received a few shipments of the vaccine that they are giving to their employees and a lot of frontline healthcare workers.

They received a first dose of 800 vaccines and then another 400 more with more shipments expected.

The latest data from AppHealthCare shows 138 active COVID-19 cases in Watauga County, 75 active cases in Ashe County and 59 active cases in Alleghany County. A total of 276 people are actively being monitored in Watauga County, while 187 are actively being monitored in Ashe County and 89 are being actively monitored in Alleghany County.

There have been 56 deaths associated with COVID-19 in the three counties served by AppHealthCare (33 in Ashe, 19 in Watauga, 4 in Alleghany).

This information should serve as a caution. As a reminder, anyone that is feeling sick or has been exposed to someone that has COVID-19 needs to stay home. Everyone should maintain a safe six-foot distance from each other when out in public or in small gatherings. Most importantly, everyone needs to remember to wear masks in public or around people that are not living in their immediate household and of course, wash your hands and use hand sanitizer as much as possible.

AppHealthCare offers free COVID-19 testing, Monday through Friday, beginning at 9:30 a.m. Appointments are needed and can be made through the AppHealthCare website (apphealthcare.com) or by calling the COVID-19 call center at 828-795-1970.