Many in the Auburn community are collectively holding their breath as they wait to see whether a sharp uptick in positive Covid-19 cases at Auburn University spills over into more hospitalizations at East Alabama Medical Center.
It's a trend that has happened since the Covid pandemic began in mid-March, when a rise in cases is followed weeks later by an increase in hospitalizations.
On Tuesday, Auburn University announced that 490 students and eight employees on the main campus had tested positive during the week of Aug. 22-28, a sharp increase over the 207 students and employees on campus who tested positive from Aug. 15-21. Auburn also announced last week that 859 students tested positive during re-entry testing.
In contrast to the rising case numbers on campus, hospitalizations at EAMC and EAMC-Lanier have fallen to the lowest point since early July. As of Wednesday, 20 patients were hospitalized at EAMC, down from a pandemic peak of 62 on July 22.
"This decrease is great news, and we are cautiously optimistic for the weeks ahead” stated John Atkinson, EAMC spokesman. “We have been through two peaks in the past six months. Everyone has much more experience now. I believe not only have we learned clinically from those situations, but I believe the community has learned better how to avoid transmission. As a result, social distancing and masking are taken more seriously than earlier in the pandemic."
EAMC officials hope the next two weeks will break the trend of cases resulting in a rise in hospitalizations.
"There will likely be somewhat of an increase in hospitalizations in the next 10-14 days, but hopefully it will be much smaller than last time," said Atkinson. "Ideally, we would remain below 40 hospitalizations. I think we would consider that a success."
As of Thursday morning, Lee County has had 3,384 confirmed cases of patients with Covid-19 since the pandemic began in mid-March, 578 of which have come in the last two weeks, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. Lee County has had 49 patients die from Covid-19, with another seven patient deaths listed as probable.
Auburn University Medical Clinic Director Dr. Fred Kam said over 500 students tested positive last week, less than the 700 he anticipated, and the increase in positive cases was expected.
"The expectation is that there will be a spike, an ongoing increase in numbers, and that's to be expected," said Kam of so many students coming back at once. "These are relatively young, healthy people, and they are going to socialize. They have done that."
Kam noted that none of the students who tested positive have required hospitalization so far.