Hospitalizations of patients with Covid-19 at East Alabama Medical Center plummeted over the past week, falling to the lowest level since close to the start of the pandemic in the Lee County area last March, as Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced on Thursday that the state's Safer at Home order, including the mask mandate, will be extended until April 9. 

As of Wednesday morning, 11 patients were hospitalized with Covid-19 at EAMC and EAMC-Lanier, with none on ventilators. Hospitalizations dropped to nine on Tuesday, a level not seen at EAMC since March 25 of last year when nine patients were also hospitalized. 

New cases of Covid-19 in Lee County are also down significantly, with only 320 over the past 14 days as of Wednesday. In all, Lee County has reported 15,021 cases since the pandemic began in the area last March. 

The vaccination effort in the area is also making headway in Lee County. At EAMC's Community Vaccine Clinic alone, more than 38,000 doses have been administered. 

The number of vaccinated individuals could get a significant boost soon, as the FDA gave emergency use authorization for Johnson & Johnson's single-dose vaccine over the weekend. The company is expected to deliver 20 million doses by the end of March out of the 37 million it agreed to deliver in its $1 billion federal contract. 

The production of Johnson & Johnson's vaccine is expected to get a substantial boost over time from rival pharmaceutical company Merck & Co., which will convert some of its facilities to manufacture and package the vaccine in the coming months as part of a deal brokered by the Biden Administration.

President Biden, on Tuesday, said he expects the United States to have enough vaccine for every adult in the country by the end of May. 

"As a consequence of the stepped-up process that I've ordered and just outlined, this country will have enough vaccine supply ... for every adult in America by the end of May," he said. "That's progress — important progress."

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was found to have an efficacy of up to 72 percent, less than the over-90 percent efficacy found for the two vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna. The J&J vaccine also differs from those two because it utilizes DNA rather than RNA. It essentially adds the gene for the coronavirus spike protein to an adenovirus. 

Although the vaccine effort continues to ramp up and cases and hospitalizations continue to decline, EAMC warns residents against letting down their guard too soon and trying to return to life as normal. 

"There’s certainly reason to have hope that somewhat normal days are ahead of us, but a full return to normalcy this quick could send us backward in our efforts," said an EAMC release. "That’s because only about 15 percent of Alabamians have received the first dose of a Covid vaccine and health officials are still uncertain how the vaccines will stand up to the variants of the Covid virus, some of which are more contagious and deadly."

Two variants have caught the attention of medical experts — the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in Great Britain, and B.1.351, a variant first identified in South Africa. To date, 2,400 cases of the British variant have been reported in the U.S., with 53 reported cases of the South African variant. Alabama has reported 35 cases of the British variant and no cases of the other, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

This week, Gov. Kay Ivey will announce whether she will extend the state's Safer at Home health order, which is set to expire on Friday. 

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