The number of people in the hospital with the coronavirus has been steadily increasing as case numbers have spiked in recent weeks, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

On Thursday, the state reported 2,409 people hospitalized with the virus, up by 400 since Sunday. A month ago, there were just 451 people hospitalized with COVID-19.

"These high levels of COVID-related admissions jeopardize the ability of our hospitals to provide needed care in our communities," said Kody Kinsley, with DHHS.

What You Need To Know

  • The state reported 5,900 new coronavirus cases and more than 2,400 people in the hospital Thursday

  • More than 600 people are in intensive care with COVID-19 in North Carolina, DHHS said

  • More people are getting vaccinated in North Carolina, though the state still lags behind the national rate

  • Spiking case numbers come as students prepare to start school in the coming weeks

"The vast majority of our COVID-19 hospitalizations are in unvaccinated people. This underscores the need for everyone to be vaccinated against the virus and use preventative measures to slow the spread of COVID-19," he said in a DHHS news release.

There are 607 people in intensive care with the virus, up from 124 people a month ago, according to DHHS data.

Public health officials say the delta variant is fueling the spike. Things were looking better in North Carolina just two months ago, when case numbers continued to decline and many people were vaccinated and gettting back out into their communities.

But now, the new variant has officials worried as schools start a new year and college students move back on campus.

"Unfortunately, we have more than a 1,000% increase in COVID-19 hospital admissions today compared to just three weeks ago,” Novant Health’s chief medical and scientific officer Dr. Eric Eskioglu said.

“The average age of hospitalized COVID-19 patients is also 44, down from 61 in January. More than 90% of patients hospitalized with COVID are unvaccinated and they are sicker than the patients we saw during earlier surges. Entire families are presenting in our emergency rooms for COVID testing. This surge is still preventable. I urge and plead with everyone to get vaccinated now," he said.

Virus transmission is high in almost every county in the state, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

North Carolina's vaccination campaign started lagging in the late spring, but has started to come back up. About 62% of adults in the state have had at least one dose, according to DHHS. But North Carolina is still behind the national average of about 71% of adults with at least one shot.

“We’re encouraged to see our vaccination rates get a boost over the past two weeks, but the rapid viral spread in our community is a reminder that we still have a long way to go,” New Hanover County Health and Human Services Director Donna Fayko said Thursday.

“We are nowhere near the number of daily vaccinations that we would like to see. We know that some of our residents have been waiting to get their vaccine, and we’re so pleased that some of them are taking action now to fight COVID-19, but we need more unvaccinated people to step up,” she said.

The statewide mask mandate expired last month as Gov. Roy Cooper said he would focus on getting more people vaccinated. Many school districts have required masks in school buildings and some towns and counties, including Durham and Orange, have instituted local mask mandates in public indoor spaces like restuarants and grocery stores.