NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Sentara says a surge of COVID-19, especially with the delta variant, is contributing to an increase in patient volume that meets or exceeds traditional patient occupancy at hospitals.

At a briefing Tuesday morning at Sentara Norfolk Heart Hospital, experts spoke on behalf of all Sentara hospitals to generalize what they are experiencing in the system’s seven hospitals in Hampton Roads along with five others across Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.

Nurses, respiratory therapists and hospital managers talked about how delta has changed the face of the COVID-19 patients they are seeing.

“The most striking thing for me is how young they are. They’re 40 years old, 30 years old,” said Bea Barajas-Williams, a respiratory therapist manager. “They can no longer get up and go and use the restroom or brush their teeth. They need to get somebody in there to help them to use a bedside commode. That’s something that someone who is 40 years old is just not used to doing.”

The four panelists had the same message for those who are unvaccinated: get the shot.

 Dr. Michael Genco, chief medical officer for Sentara Obici Hospital, said adverse reactions to the COVID-19 vaccination have been “exceedingly rare.” 

“If you’re on the fence, don’t wait until you get [COVID] to decide you want to get the vaccine,” Genco said.

Officials said some hospitals are at capacity and the system is moving patients around to help. Health care workers said the vast majority of new COVID patients are unvaccinated.

Sentara says on any given day in recent weeks, the total number of intensive care unit beds have been at or near capacity.

Julian Walker of the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association says other systems across the commonwealth are facing the same problems with an influx of COVID-19 patients. Walker says that challenge is compounded by other factors, including hospital care for the newly resettled Afghan refugees at military bases in Virginia, as well as Virginians who are only now getting medical procedures they had put off last year, fearing infection if they entered a hospital.

“We’re seeing that pent-up demand right now,” Walker said.

VHHA data shows that an average of 2,200 Virginians per day have been hospitalized with COVID recently, a surge second only to the daily average of 3,300 back in January of this year.