As officials look to expand distribution of the coronavirus vaccine to a larger segment of the population, Covid-19 continues to rage in the Lee County community. 

In just the past week, Lee County has added 22 deaths attributed to Covid-19, with the grim count currently at 97, according to data from the Alabama Department of Public Health. Lee County has also added over 1,800 new cases in the past two weeks, or about 15 percent of the county's total cases since the pandemic began in mid-March. As of Thursday morning, Lee County has had 12,120 total cases since the pandemic began.

Hospitalizations at East Alabama Medical Center and EAMC-Lanier have also reach a new peak, rising to 92 on Wednesday. Currently, 15 patients are on ventilators, slightly down from the 20 patients intubated over the weekend. 

"It’s difficult to see that number continue to rise, but unfortunately it was expected in the wake of the holidays," said John Atkinson, EAMC spokesman, of the hospitalizations. "It’s too late to do anything to change what happened then, but we can improve going forward."

Atkinson added that it's important right now for residents to limit their exposure to people outside of their household. 

"In particular, please refrain from familiar settings such as extended family or friends where you are more likely to let your guard down by not wearing a mask or social distancing," he said. "That seems to be where more cases have been originating as opposed to stores where people do tend to wear a mask and keep some distance."

The surge in Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths comes as the state of Alabama plans to expand the availability of the approved vaccines to people aged 75 and older. Health care workers, nursing home residents and employees and first responders began receiving the vaccine in December.

Those eligible can register for a vaccine shot at EAMC said it is accepting appointments from those eligible who live in Lee, Chambers and Macon counties and asks that residents not call the hospital directly as operators are not involved in the appointment process. 

"We’re excited to begin this phase of vaccinations as these are our community’s parents and grandparents, and are among the most vulnerable population when it comes to Covid-19 having a significant impact on their health," said Atkinson. "If you know someone 75 and older in these three counties, and they are not proficient with the Internet, please offer to help them get registered through this link. It truly takes less than five minutes. Once you submit the form, it immediately takes you to a confirmation page.

"We do ask for everyone’s patience during the start-up as the two teams making the appointments and administering the vaccines are the same ones who are taking calls for Covid testing and providing vaccines (1st or 2nd doses) to healthcare workers. We have heard of a handful of area pharmacies receiving some vaccine as well, so hopefully as more doses become available locally, the rollout will take place faster.”

EAMC has received more than 2,500 appointment requests since it opened registration to those 75 or older and began scheduling appointments on Monday. 

“We will have given around 300 first doses to this group by Friday,” said Atkinson, noting that the second dose takes place three weeks later. “We already had a lot of the time slots for this week filled because of our employees coming back for their second dose. We’re currently able to give about 300 shots a day, so we will be ramping up vaccinations to senior adults next week.”

ADPH has announced that it is taking appointments for specified groups, including those in the 75-and-older category, for vaccines that will be administered at county health departments starting on Monday. 

Appointments can be scheduled with ADPH by calling its hotline at 855-566-5333. The response from the public has been overwhelming, with the hotline receiving more than 1.1 million calls in its first day of operation. 

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