Dr. Ricardo Maldonado

Dr. Ricardo Maldonado, center, infectious disease specialist, observes the doffing and donning of personal protective equipment at EAMC in early March prior to the confirmed outbreak of Covid-19 in the Auburn community

The number of new cases of Covid-19 in Lee County seem to be leveling off as EAMC officials express hope that it has reached its peak number of hospitalized cases. 

As of Wednesday morning, the Alabama Department of Public Health reported that Lee County has a total of 319 confirmed cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, since the outbreak began. The county has also seen 19 reported deaths, including that of Auburn resident and Medal of Honor recipient Bennie Adkins, who died of complications from Covid-19 at the age of 86 last Friday. 

Over the past two weeks, EAMC has seen a gradual decline in the number of patients hospitalized with Covid-19, rising from 42 on April 3 to 78 on April 11 and dropping to 56 patients on April 15. As of Tuesday afternoon, 39 patients with confirmed Covid-19 and 17 patients with suspected Covid-19 were hospitalized at EAMC. The number of Covid-19 patients on ventilators has fallen from a high of 22 on April 5 to six as of Tuesday.

"We are hopeful that we have reached our peak hospitalized cases and are beginning to see a gradual leveling off," said Dr. Michael Roberts, a hospitalist at EAMC. "We have adequate space, staff and equipment to handle our current hospitalized cases and our current number of patients requiring life support (ventilators). If we can continue effective social distancing, we hope to see a continued gradual decline in new cases, as well as a gradual decline in the number of hospitalized patients."

Dr. Ricardo Maldonado, infectious disease specialist at EAMC, also expressed optimism that the worst of the current Covid-19 outbreak in the Lee County community has passed. 

"We expected our peak last week and that is what exactly happened," said Maldonado last Friday. "Covid-19 is not going anywhere, and as a community, we should keep our foot on the pedal in terms of social distancing. We still need to buy some time and can easily get overwhelmed if we make bad decisions."

While the governors of Georgia and Florida have already taken steps to open up businesses in their states, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey appears to be taking a more cautious approach, saying that the Stay at Home order for Alabama will remain in effect through April 30. 

"What we're doing is working and I just plead with the people of Alabama, keep doing what you're doing — social distancing, personal hygiene, staying at home when you can," said Ivey at a press conference on Tuesday. 

The state established a Covid-19 Task Force in early March, and an executive committee of the task force is currently working through recommendations on how to safely open the state's economy, Ivey said. 

"I'm as eager as anybody to get our economy back open spinning on all cylinders again, but again we have to be careful and cautious in what we're doing and do it in a smart, productive way," she said. 

One of the biggest impediments to quickly reopening businesses throughout the country is the lack of widespread testing, which was touched upon in Ivey's press conference. To date, the ADPH reports that about 48,000 people have been tested for Covid-19 in the state, or about 1 percent of Alabama's total population.

U.S. Sen. Doug Jones applauded Ivey's measured approach to re-open Alabama's economy. 

"Everyone wants to get our economy rolling again and I understand the incredible pressure the governor is facing to rush this process and follow our neighboring states," said Jones in a press release. "Her remarks today about the importance of having more testing capacity than we currently have and putting our citizens’ health care needs first are spot-on."

EAMC and LifeSouth Community Blood Centers have partnered together to participate in a national clinical trial that could help Covid-19 patients recover more quickly. It is asking those who have tested positive for Covid-19 to contact LifeSouth to determine if they are eligible to donate plasma. 

"The plasma from recovered patients contain antibodies, which are proteins in the blood," said an EAMC press release. "Preliminary studies show these antibodies can be helpful by lessening the severity of the case."

Recovered Covid-19 patients must meet the following criteria to participate in the clinical trial:

• A laboratory-confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19.

• Complete recovery, i.e. no symptoms without fever- or symptom-reducing medication for at least 14 days before the donation.

• If it has been fewer than 28 days since completion of symptoms, donors must have a documented negative result by one or more nasal swab specimens or a molecular diagnostic blood test. If neither of these tests was performed, a positive antibody test confirming the patient has Covid-19 antibodies is acceptable.

Eligible donors can register at https://lifesouth.bio-linked.org/

EAMC has also made changes to its Covid-19 hotline, reducing its hours to 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. 

The hotline has routinely fielded between 700 to 1,000 calls a day, although the call volume dropped to about 400 calls a day last week. If you are displaying symptoms of Covid-19 — persistent cough, fever and shortness of breath —, you can call the hotline at 334-528-SICK to be screened.

Maldonado expects Covid-19 to impact the Auburn community for some time. 

"We do not know exactly how life will be in the long term as we are not sure what this virus is going to do, but I see people wearing masks for a long time," he said. "I also think people will perform hand hygiene more than before Covid-19. The elderly and at-risk population will have to be careful and avoid dangerous situations. And the young and healthy will have to protect those populations so that when they (the young and healthy) get sick—which appears unavoidable in the long term—at least we have the ability to diagnose them (the elderly and at-risk) quickly, and have the right personnel who can take care of them with more knowledge than a month ago. That is why flattening the curve is still the best thing to do, especially for those at high risk for severe disease. Hugs and handshakes outside of our cohort of people should be avoided. Hand hygiene with hand sanitizers will be common practice especially in public areas. Restaurants will have to change their routines and even physical barriers between tables will be common as well as waiters wearing masks.

"Also, people have asked if we need to start doing contact tracing, where we specifically look at everyone who a Covid-19 patient has been in contact with so as to prevent the virus spreading.  That is something we would be doing once the number of cases gets extremely low. Right now, there are still too many confirmed cases, and I’m sure there are still plenty of mild cases in the community that don’t reach the threshold of being tested."

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