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'This is real and it’s taking a toll on our health care system': An inside look at an ER filled with COVID-19 patients

Some leaders are now calling this a pandemic of the unvaccinated.

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A South Carolina health system is seeing a record number of patients with COVID-19 and invited sister station WYFF inside one of its emergency rooms to give people an idea of the strain inside an ER right now.

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Some leaders are now calling this a pandemic of the unvaccinated.

WYFF's crew walked inside with N95 masks and face shields. They were guided by hospital administrators.

Almost immediately, the crew saw stretchers with patients in the hallway. They were receiving treatment there because the 52-room ER didn't have the space to put them in a room.

Emergency Room Dr. Katie Langley said stretchers have been used in hallways before, but not to the extent they are now.

"I don’t think we’ve ever seen it like this, where we’re stopping elective surgery and really anything that’s non-emergent surgery, just so that we can redeploy our nurses to other areas of the hospital," Langley said.

The crew noticed that nurses and doctors were constantly moving around the emergency room.

As of Thursday, across South Carolina's Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System, there were 279 COVID-19 patients. Leaders said of the 279 patients, 254 have not been vaccinated.

"We’re seeing more and more folks who, otherwise, are healthy folks or with very few medical problems coming in unwell and having to be admitted to the hospital," Langley said.

The average age for unvaccinated hospitalized COVID-19 patients systemwide is 55 years old, whereas the average age for vaccinated hospitalized COVID-19 patients systemwide is 70 years old.

Nearly 45% of inpatients at the system's acute care hospitals are COVID-19 positive, said Spartanburg Regional Medical Center President Phil Feisal.

"We don’t have the resources to do those things that don’t absolutely have to be done in this moment," he said.

"Our wait times in the EC (Emergency Room) have just jumped dramatically over the last several weeks as a result of the capacity constraints and those that need our services otherwise," he added. "We’re not turning anybody away, but those that need our services otherwise are having to wait longer than they would normally."

Feisal emphasized that he's appreciative of his team of doctors, nurses and staff.

What adds to some exhaustion and frustration, he said, is the understanding from health officials that if most of the unvaccinated patients had been vaccinated, the situation may not be nearly as bad.

"There are times that I see my staff, almost at their wits' end, taking care of patients that we all know probably didn't have to be in the hospital," he said.

Langley said this surge has been challenging on staff within the ER.

"This is real and it’s taking a toll on our healthcare system," she said. "It’s taking a toll on our medical workers."

There is concern the surge in COVID-19 patients could continue. Feisal and Langley are asking for people to get vaccinated.

"This is not a crisis that, really, politics should be involved," said Feisal. "This is a public health crisis, and as such, there are things that we know that can be done to minimize the impact of it and we just need to make sure we do those things."

In addition to vaccination, Feisal recommends people adhere to guidelines from health officials.