Hospitalizations at East Alabama Medical Center climbed dramatically this week, setting a new pandemic peak as Covid-19 continues to sweep across the nation, state of Alabama and Lee County, putting health care systems and hospitals under tremendous pressure.
As of Wednesday morning, hospitalizations at EAMC and EAMC-Lanier rose to 74, a dramatic rise from the 47 patients who were hospitalized on Christmas day.
“We believe that the total decreased at the time it did because people were doing all they could to avoid being hospitalized on Christmas Day,” said John Atkinson, EAMC spokesman, in a news release. “This is an extremely difficult situation, and one that we’re afraid will only get worse in the next two weeks as an increase in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations are expected following Christmas gatherings.
"As we have said before, the average length of stay for a patient with COVID-19 is about 10.5 days, and some stay several weeks,” Atkinson stated. “That compares to about four days for non-COVID patients, so it really becomes a problem with the availability of beds. We’re in a red census today with 263 total patients and many of our units are full. When you take into account that most Alabama hospitals are in the same situation, as are neighboring states, it truly becomes a public health emergency.”
Delaying getting treatment for Covid-19 could cause problems because treatment options are more limited the sicker patients become.
"We have a Covid Infusion Center now that allows us to give patients monoclonal antibodies, and the vast majority are able to avoid hospitalization,"he said. "However, patients have to be identified in the early stages for this to be an option."
The positivity rate of testing at EAMC has also continued to climb, with 24.6 percent of the 402 people tested last week coming back positive. Previously, the positivity rate jumped from 24 percent to 38.5 percent in the course of two weeks in August.
“When the rates were high in late August and early September, a good number of those cases were related to college students gathering,” Atkinson said. “That’s obviously not the case this time since they are on break.”
Lee County added more than 500 new cases of Covid-19 in the past seven days, with the county seeing 10,320 positive cases since the start of the pandemic. About 12 percent (1,279 cases) of Lee County's cases have come in the last 14 days. Alabama has also seen a major increase in new cases and hospitalizations, a move that has put Alabama hospitals and healthcare workers under "extreme pressure," EAMC's release stated.
"This is a public health emergency, and the public’s help is greatly needed to slow the spread until enough vaccines have been distributed," said Atkinson. "That’s still a few months away. Hospitals cannot withstand a continued pace of the past three months, much less an exponential increase, which is what we are staring at in January."
The surge of new cases and hospitalizations comes as two recently approved Covid-19 vaccines are beginning to be administered. According to a release by the Alabama Department of Public Health, the state is still Phase 1a of distribution, which will help vaccinate the state's health care workers, numbering about 300,000.
Long-term care facilities have also begun vaccinations through the federal Pharmacy Partnership.
"Once persons in Phase 1a have been administered or offered the vaccine, Alabama will move into Phase 1b. ADPH does not have a timeline on this as ability to move to the next phase is dependent on vaccine supply," the release stated.
Once Phase 1a is completed, the ADPH will notify doctors, pharmacies, urgent cares, rural health clinics and other providers.
As of Monday, more than 20,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines had been administered in the state. ADPH has also set up a Covid-19 Vaccine Distribution Dashboard to consolidate vaccine information. It can be found at https://alpublichealth.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/e4a232feb1344ce0afd9ac162f3ac4ba.
Dr. Michael Roberts, chief of staff at EAMC, explains the severity of the current situation in this nine-minute video.