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The COVID-19 outbreak has affected every aspect of daily life in North Carolina. From schools to sports, from working to worshipping and everything in between, we have all had to make dramatic changes to our lives as we work together to reduce the spread of the virus.

Hospitals and health systems have faced their own set of changes and challenges as they secure equipment and supplies, work to keep patients safe, and help support the statewide approach in fighting the virus.

This unprecedented health crisis has required new, innovative solutions. Here are three ways North Carolina hospitals are responding to COVID-19, so we can stay safe, get back to work, and restore our economy.

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New Technology Across the State

This summer, Wake Forest Baptist Health launched a drone delivery service in collaboration with UPS and UPS Flight Forward. These Matternet M2 drones deliver critical supplies and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s central campus in Winston-Salem to other Wake Forest Baptist Health locations.

The ability to transport medical equipment by drone has the potential to streamline operations and transform the health system’s supply chain during the pandemic and beyond.

Using drones – as opposed to traditional transportation – means medical deliveries with less contact during COVID-19, and also allows for faster delivery of things like specialty infusion medicines. With road conditions and traffic as a non-issue, it also allows the health system to potentially add more delivery routes than would be possible with traditional transportation.

The drone program “opens the door” for Wake Forest Baptist Health to provide better service to patients and their families, said Conrad Emmerich, chief supply chain officer at Wake Forest Baptist Health, through technology that makes healthcare more accessible and effective.

Wake Forest Baptist Health isn’t the only system using drones to deliver supplies. Novant Health has also distributed medical supplies by drone as part of its COVID-19 response. Currently, drones deliver masks, gowns, and gloves, but in the future, drone deliveries could potentially help with testing, drug trials and vaccine distribution, as well as serving both health facilities and patient’s homes.


“Novant Health has long been on the forefront of leveraging technology to enhance how health care is delivered to our patients,” said Angela Yochem, Novant Health executive vice president and chief digital and technology officer. “The COVID-19 pandemic has tasked us with being even more nimble and innovative in how we solve for complex challenges.”


A Focus On Public Health

COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets and using cloth coverings over the nose and mouth is one of the core strategies in reducing its spread. North Carolina is one of more than 30 states with an executive order requiring face masks to be worn in public.

Hospitals in the state have played a critical role in collecting and distributing these masks so that every person who needs a mask has one, especially in North Carolina’s underserved communities.

One of these programs is Atrium Health’s ‘Million Masks Initiative,’ a public/private effort among the health system and local businesses, including Mecklenburg County, Bank of America, Barings, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets and others, to distribute millions of masks in Charlotte and the surrounding area.

The program reached a significant milestone in late August, distributing more than 1 million free masks across the Charlotte region, with more than two-thirds distributed to vulnerable populations. This program makes sure in particular, at-risk communities have access to masks to protect themselves and their families.

“This public-private partnership has become a national example of how business leaders, health professionals and government officials can work together to make a significant and positive impact on the community and spur our local economy,” said Dr. David Callaway, chief of operational and disaster medicine at Atrium Health.

In Mecklenburg County, where the Million Mask Initiative has been a primary focus, total daily positive test rates have dropped by over 60% and percent positive rates have fallen by more than 50%.

“We need to make wearing masks the new normal, in order to continue to open the economy and keep everyone safe,” added Callaway. “We are winning, but we haven’t won the battle yet and need to remain vigilant. Just like we said when we started this initiative, masking is one simple thing you can do to protect yourself, but even more, protect those around you.”

In the Charlotte area? Find out where you can access masks.


The Pursuit of Treatments and Vaccines

North Carolina is fortunate to have a strong academic medical presence. Hospitals and health systems affiliated with universities such as the University of North Carolina and Duke University allow our communities to benefit from cutting edge research and technologies, close to home.

This has been particularly important during the COVID-19 crisis, where researchers in the Chapel Hill and Raleigh areas are conducting much-needed clinical trials on treatments and vaccines.

At UNC, global leaders in HIV prevention and treatment have shifted their work to focus on the coronavirus.

“Virtually every HIV expert on this campus has been assigned or repurposed, in one way or another, to work on COVID-19 because they are able to deal with emerging pathogens after dealing with HIV for 30 to 40 years,” said Myron Cohen, MD, director of UNC’s Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases.

An infectious diseases team is launching a Moderna vaccine trial in Chapel Hill and the surrounding communities, and the clinical trials are looking to enroll 30,000 people at multiple sites nationwide.

Meanwhile, at Duke Raleigh Hospital, patients with significant symptoms of COVID-19 will have the option to participate in a clinical trial investigating a new therapy. Patients who choose to participate in the trial will be given the antiviral drug remdesivir, which has shown to improve the recovery time of more than 1,000 hospitalized patients from 15 days to 11 days.

Duke Raleigh Hospital is also testing if remdesivir could continue to improve COVID-19 symptoms when paired with another drug, baricitinib, usually used to treat inflammation associated with moderate-to-severe arthritis.

“The quicker we can find effective treatments to help our patients and the larger medical community, the quicker we can gain control of this disease,” said Dr. Michael Spiritos, chief medical officer, Duke Raleigh Hospital. “Here we have the opportunity to advance the understanding of this disease for everybody.”

It isn’t yet clear when life might return to normal in North Carolina or around the country. But hospitals and health systems across the state are committed to supporting the health of our communities during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.

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