Seasonal respiratory illnesses surge as hospital admissions spike

Published 4:12 pm Friday, January 5, 2024

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RALEIGH — The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services updated its weekly Respiratory Virus Summary Dashboard, which shows high volumes of people being seen in hospital emergency departments with respiratory illness symptoms across the state.

Among reporting hospitals for the week ending Dec. 30 there were 923 patients admitted who tested positive for COVID-19 and 1,055 patients had the flu. Those numbers are up from the previous week: 710 for COVID-19 and 722 for flu.

NCDHHS is urging people to get tested and seek treatment early to prevent severe illness. People with mild symptoms should seek testing and treatment from their regular health care provider, urgent care or a telehealth provider instead of going to the emergency department during this spike in COVID-19, flu, RSV and other respiratory illnesses.

To ensure health care systems have the resources they need, NCDHHS is in regular communication with health care systems across the state and we applaud the proactive steps taken by hospitals to respond to the increases in ED visits as well as reduce further transmission of these respiratory illnesses.

“We are approaching the peak of winter respiratory virus season and encourage people to get tested early and seek treatment as soon as they begin to develop symptoms,” said Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo-Tilson, State Health Director and Chief Medical Officer for NCDHHS. “Don’t wait to seek treatment if you test positive for the flu or COVID-19, as treatments can help prevent severe illness, especially for those who are high risk of serious complications based on their age or medical conditions.”

If you begin to experience mild symptoms, seek testing and medical care from your regular health care provider, urgent care or a telehealth provider instead of going to the emergency department. Treatments are available by prescription for both flu and COVID-19 and can help prevent severe illness and lower your risk of hospitalization. Early testing and treatment will also help ease the strain on hospital systems across the state. Find more information on available testing and treatment on the NCDHHS COVID-19 website.

In addition to testing and treatment, flu and COVID-19 vaccinations are readily available at pharmacies, private medical offices and some federally qualified health care centers and local health departments. To find flu or COVID-19 vaccines near you, visit

Children with Medicaid can receive the COVID-19 vaccine – as well as other recommended vaccines including the flu vaccine – at their local health department or Vaccines for Children Program enrolled providers who administer vaccines free of charge. People should also ask their health care providers about RSV immunizations for pregnant women, older adults and infants.

The following precautions should also be taken to protect against the spread of respiratory viruses:

Regularly clean your hands with hand sanitizer or soap and water to prevent the spread of viruses to others;

Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth;

Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated;

Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and then discard the tissue promptly;

Stay home when sick, except to seek medical care or testing, and take steps to avoid spreading infection to others in your home, including staying in a separate room from other household members, if possible, using a separate bathroom, if possible, avoiding contact with other members of the household and pets, and not sharing personal household items, like cups, towels and utensils; and

Wearing a mask when around other people.