FILE - Duke University Hospital

Duke University Hospital in Durham, N.C.

(The Center Square) – As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, North Carolina hospitals and medical professionals are calling on Gov. Roy Cooper to issue a stay-at-home order in fear of equipment and staff shortages.

The North Carolina Healthcare Association and the North Carolina Nurses Association have sent separate letters to the governor and other top state officials this week asking him to strengthen social distancing rules and implement a mandatory statewide shutdown.

“We cannot afford to be led by a false sense of security created by a low number of confirmed cases,” North Carolina Healthcare Association President Steve Lawler wrote. "We do not have the luxury to think and act based on human time. COVID-19 follows its own timeline and pathway."

According to Lawler, North Carolina hospitals have a limited amount of tests and technology to fully tackle the outbreak. Hospitals in rural areas that already face pre-existing shortages could be in more trouble.

While there are 924,107 staffed hospital beds in the U.S., the American Hospital Association estimates 960,000 Americans could need beds with ventilators during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has instructed hospitals with the capacity and the specialized equipment to treat COVID-19 to accept transfers from small or rural hospitals that don’t have appropriate or sufficient facilities or equipment.

There are 12 small rural hospitals with a limit of 49 beds and 20 critical care rural hospitals with a limit of 25 beds in North Carolina, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. CMS has since lifted bed limits in response to COVID-19. 

Nurses are concerned that the increased patient loads also put hospital staff at risk for the virus.

“Hospitals, health systems, primary care offices and others are already utilizing every measure at their disposal to reduce the spread and conserve equipment but we fear it will not be enough,” North Carolina Nurses Association President Dennis Taylor said.

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus.

NCDHHS on Tuesday reported 398 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state. There have been no deaths.

The disease has caused at least 622 deaths in the U.S., with nearly 50,000 confirmed cases in the country. COVID-19 symptoms appear within two to 14 days after exposure and include fever, cough, runny nose and difficulty breathing.

Most people who have it develop only mild symptoms. But some people, usually the elderly and those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal.

On Monday evening, Cooper signed an executive order to limiting social gatherings to 50 people or less, but for health-care professionals, that is not enough.

“It is imperative that we move quickly, as it will take at least two weeks after a shelter-in-place order is issued before we see a change in the trajectory of cases,” Lawler said.

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for three years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.