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'I've never seen death like this' | Coronavirus hospitalizations surging in North Carolina

Hospitals haven't reached full capacity just yet, but new research shows it could get to that point in a matter of weeks.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — COVID-19 hospitalizations in North Carolina continue to set new records with each passing day in North Carolina, and experts say it could be a matter of time before hospitals run out of room. 

Hospital officials in the Charlotte area are on standby, ready to active their COVID-19 surge plans to make more space available if needed as nurses and doctors on the front lines see beds fill up quickly with patients. Hospitals haven't reached full capacity just yet, but new research from the University of North Carolina says it could get to that point in just a few weeks.

It's been nine months since the world turned upside-down. COVID-19 patients have been isolated in ICU rooms across the country and nurses like Cassie Brault have held their hands while they die, zooming their families.

“It’s devastating. I've never seen death like this and it’s so sad," said Brault, an ICU nurse at Novant Health, who describes the past few weeks as "insane."

RELATED: Dr. Mandy Cohen: North Carolina on 'dangerous course' with COVID-19 surge

Cases are surging and hospitals are close to reaching capacity.

“It’s still pretty surreal everyday walking in and seeing our COVID side filled up with COVIDs and our other side being filled up with regular patients. I think the whole hospital system has been overwhelmed,” said Diana Tejada, another ICU nurse at Novant Health.

WCNC Charlotte featured Brault and Tejada for National Nurses Week in May.

They are leaning on each other, as well as the other nurses and doctors working in Novant Health's ICU to get through the sheer exhaustion.

“We have to take each day as if it’s a brand new day because there are brand new patients coming in and in,” said Brault.

Seeing what the virus is capable of up close and personal, they are urging people to take it seriously.

“I just want people to love their family members and appreciate their family members because today is not promised. And that’s what we're finding,” said Tejada.

At Novant Health, they currently have all of the personal protective equipment (PPE), staffing and space to handle new patients. But state health officials said that could change quickly.

If the current trends continue, new research out of the University of North Carolina shows the state could be out of hospital beds in six weeks. Researchers at the UNC Gillings School of Public Health have been tracking hospital capacity since the start of the pandemic. Back in June, they found the state was 15 weeks away from reaching capacity. Now, it's a much shorter timeline.

“Within four to six weeks, depending on current trends, hospitals are going to have to start looking at ways to expand and I think that should be a sobering thought for all North Carolinians," said Mark Holmes, Ph.D., a professor at the UNC Gillings School of Public Health.

Hospitals have surge plans in place to meet the needs of the community but it's not too late to change the trends.

“I think we have to look ahead and say we don't want to hit that car; we don't want to hit that capacity so let’s start pumping the breaks now. Let’s do the easy stuff,” said Holmes.

Wearing a mask, social distancing and avoiding gatherings for the holidays can help keep hospitalization rates down, and our front-line workers from being overwhelmed with patients.

“The frustration, the exhaustion, mentally, physically is all still there. We've seen more death honestly these past three weeks than I've ever seen in my career as a nurse these past five years,” said Brault.

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