Hospitalizations of patients with Covid-19 at East Alabama Medical Center continue to move in a positive direction, falling this week to the lowest level since early November as the third peak of the pandemic continues to wane.
As of Wednesday morning, 22 patients were hospitalized at EAMC, continuing a steady decline in hospitalizations since a pandemic peak of 92 on Jan. 13. It's the lowest count at EAMC and EAMC-Lanier since early November.
"Our overall census has remained pretty high, but part of that is a result of catching up on the inpatient elective surgeries — such as total knee replacement — that had to be postponed last month when our Covid peak was at 92," said EAMC spokesman John Atkinson. "With the Covid census down, we are planning on loosening our visitor restrictions one day this week. Our group working on that is finalizing a few changes so we will announce the new guidelines separately when they become official."
The number of new cases in Lee County has sharply declined over the past month. In the past two weeks, Lee County has had only 425 new cases,which represents less than 3 percent of the nearly 15,000 cases in the county since the pandemic began in the area almost a year ago, according to ADPH data. Over the same time, Covid-19 has claimed the lives of 147 Lee County residents.
While the pandemic is waning, the vaccination effort continues to ramp up. EAMC surpassed the 30,000 mark this week for vaccine doses administered by the hospital. In total, 21,674 people have received one dose and 8,845 have received both doses.
EAMC announced late last week that the number of appointments at its Community Vaccine Clinic on Opelika Road for first doses would be limited over the next few weeks as the hospital meets the demand for scheduled second doses.
"Of the roughly 1,200 vaccine doses given each day over the next three weeks, about 800 each day will be for people returning for their second dose,” said Atkinson. “That leaves a maximum of about 400 time slots each day for first doses. And then the pattern will flip three weeks later (March 15) when 400 time slots will be for second doses and 800 will be for first doses.”
The clinic, which is located in Market Square Shopping Center across from Auburn Mall, will continue to administer more than 1,200 or more shots a day at least through the end of April.
“Our CEO, Laura Grill, has been in contact with Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller and Auburn Mayor Ron Anders and they have agreed to continue to provide support throughout that time," said Atkinson. "The hope is that vaccine will be more readily available at pharmacies, grocery stores, physician offices and other locations in the near future, so it’s kind of a month-to-month evaluation process."
To self-schedule an appointment, visit www.eastalcovidvaccine.com/login. EAMC is using a five-day "rolling" window for vaccination appointments, meaning new slots will become available every day at 8 a.m. Monday-Friday.
Residents can also check their eligibility and sign up for an appointment, when available, through ADPH at www.ALCovidVaccine.gov.
The vaccine supply could get a much-needed boost soon as the FDA is expected to approve emergency-use authorization for a single-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, possibly as early as this weekend.
With expanded testing capacity for Covid-19 elsewhere in the area, EAMC has decided to cease operations at its testing site, the hospital announced on Wednesday. The site will cease operations on Friday.
“When we opened it last March, it was the main source of testing for this area, and we tested as many as 825 people a week last July,” said Atkinson. “Over the past year, our employees have been reassigned at times to work in areas specific to Covid-19. The need for testing has been declining for several weeks now and we’re hopeful it will continue to do so as vaccinations increase. We feel that now is the time to bring that portion of our Covid efforts to a close. We will still be running our Covid Infusion Center, Call Center and the Community Vaccine Clinic, while also trying to return as many employees to their regular jobs.”