More contagious COVID variant threatens recovering ENC hospitals

Hospitalizations in North Carolina have been on the decline since they were record-shattering earlier this month. The discovery of the U.K. strain in ENC could set them back again.
Published: Jan. 28, 2021 at 6:54 PM EST
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JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - A strain of the coronavirus that’s been wreaking havoc in the U.K. has been discovered in Eastern North Carolina, and it is threatening the progress hospitals have made in getting their numbers down.

The variant was confirmed Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control in Onslow County. The patient recovered from the virus and was not hospitalized with COVID-19, but did travel outside of the state before contracting the virus, according to county health officials.

But the strain is much more contagious, research says, and threatens the sanctity of nurses very tired from months of rapidly-rising death tolls.

“I think that’s been the hardest part of doing my job is just witnessing human suffering,” said Christi Herbst, a COVID nurse at CarolinaEast Medical Center. “I’ll never forget calling their families and hearing them scream on the phone and cry. I will carry that with me forever.”

And now, creeping up for Herbst, the possibility the pandemic could get bad all over again, with two new strains, one first confirmed in South Africa that was detected in South Carolina Thursday.

“But really, the message remains the same,” said Onslow County Health Director Kristen Richmond-Hoover.

The Onslow County case of the U.K. strain, referred to as B117, was from a sample collected on January 11. Technology, however, is not yet available to local health departments to detect the strain, so the sample was sent to the CDC and confirmed this week.

“Early on, whenever we were first testing for COVID, all the specimens were going to the CDC,” said Richmond-Hoover. “It took time to ramp up that testing to be available locally.”

Still, for nurses like Herbst, the possibility of worsening case counts and COVID hospitalizations is daunting and almost, but not quite, too much to bear.

“I’m helping. And I know what I’m doing when I’m there,” said Herbst. “I know how to help and right now I’m going to keep going.”

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