Covid-19 cases are on the rise in Lee County, while hospitalizations at East Alabama Medical Center and EAMC-Lanier remain relatively flat.
As of Thursday morning, Lee County has had 784 confirmed cases of Covid-19 since the start of the outbreak in mid-March, with 221, or roughly 28 percent, coming in the past two weeks. Last week on Wednesday, the county's confirmed Covid-19 count stood at 599. Hospitalizations of Covid-19 patients have decreased slightly over the same period, dropping from 27 on June 5 to 18 as of Monday afternoon.
Hospitalizations tend to "lag behind in an outbreak," said Dr. Fred Kam, medical director at the Auburn University Medical Clinic, who added that he is concerned about what lies ahead.
"What is most frustrating to me as a physician who keeps up daily with Covid information is the seemingly lax attitude that people, young and old, have toward adhering to the only preventive strategies that have worked so far," he said. "Seeing people in the grocery stores and home improvement venues without masks and not making an attempt to keep a distance from others is incredibly frustrating, especially from those whom would be considered vulnerable.”
The increase in Covid-19 cases has also impacted downtown restaurants and bars, as several have temporarily closed over the past week after employees or patrons tested positive. Covid-19 has also affected Auburn University students, with 24 students testing positive last week, Kam said.
"We are clearly seeing more confirmed cases of Covid-19," he said. "Last week, we had 24 students test positive for the virus. The cases were all related to birthday parties, lake parties and visits to downtown social establishments."
Testing availability and the lifting of restrictions were "probable contributing factors" for the rise in cases, added Kam.
"There is no doubt in my mind we are seeing the after effects of Memorial Day parties, weekends at the lake or beach, and visits to some downtown venues,” said Kam. “I do not believe we have seen cases related to the protests, but it is still early in the timeline.”
Health officials are still urging the public to wear masks to help stem the spread of the coronavirus. A recent study published in May in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the "airborne transmission route is highly virulent and dominant for the spread of Covid-19," and that the "difference with and without mandated face covering represents the determinant in shaping the trends of the pandemic. This protective measure significantly reduces the number of infections.."
"Wearing face coverings remains an important part of the public health strategy to reduce the spread of Covid-19," said Dr. Michael Roberts, a hospitalist and chief of staff at EAMC. "Wearing a cloth face covering or mask in public is an inexpensive and simple intervention.
"As our state reopens, and social distancing in public places becomes more difficult, this simple intervention becomes more important, not less. When I wear a face covering in public, it says that I care enough about you to protect you from a virus that I may not even know I am carrying. Your mask says the same thing to me. It is not a political issue. It is a matter of public health."
Kam echoed Roberts on the wearing of masks, saying that face coverings in public venues is the most effective means to reduce the spread of the virus.
"Young people need to understand the role they play in both spreading and preventing the spread of this virus," said Kam. "Older people need to model the strategies that have worked, like wearing masks, physical social distancing, hand hygiene and limiting your movements in public to what’s essential. We all have a responsible part to play in this pandemic and we need to do what we can, even if it is inconvenient or uncomfortable for a short, finite period of time."
The world potentially got some good news on the pandemic front this week, when United Kingdom experts shared their preliminary finding that a common and inexpensive steroid drug, dexamethasone, reduces the mortality of patients hospitalized with severe cases of Covid-19, including up to one-third of patients on ventilators.
The potential breakthrough in treatment comes as scientists around the world are pushing forward on vaccine development, with some vaccine candidates already progressing to phase III trials. Still, the earliest a vaccine could come is likely 2021, and even then there's no guarantee.
"It's too early to talk about a vaccine," said Dr. Ricardo Maldonado, infectious disease specialist at EAMC, to the Villager last month. "Obviously, we all want a safe vaccine and effective vaccine. I don't think we can reliably say that we are getting there.
"We all know that a safe and effective vaccine probably will take us to certain levels of normality. As most scientists, I will have to wait and see if that happens or not."
EAMC has expanded its testing for Covid-19, acquiring the testing equipment to be able to process results in-house, with an average turnaround time of 24 hours.
Call 334-528-SICK to be screened if you have any symptoms of Covid-19, including fever, cough, shortness of breath and loss of taste or smell.