Hospitalizations of Covid-19 patients at East Alabama Medical Center dropped sharply the past few days, even as some experts voiced concern over a new coronavirus variant that is estimated to infect up to 50 percent more people and could become the dominant variant in the United States by March, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“Like the rest of us, he was pleased with the decline in hospitalizations, but reminded us of the variant strains of the virus, and how they are more contagious and have been detected in neighboring states,” said EAMC spokesman John Atkinson, who passed on the thoughts of EAMC infectious disease specialist Dr. Ricardo Maldonado. “He really wanted to stress the importance of distancing from each other and avoiding gatherings where masks are not worn, even if that is a wedding or other church service.”

After hitting a pandemic peak of 92 hospitalizations at EAMC and EAMC-Lanier last Wednesday, hospitalizations fell to 74 as of Wednesday, with nine patients on ventilators. 

“This is a good start, but it’s definitely not time to celebrate,” stressed Atkinson. “This is the start of hospitals recovering from the gatherings related to the holiday season.”

EAMC attributes keeping hospitalizations below the 100 mark to the hospital opening its Covid Infusion Center in early December. According to EAMC, the center allows people to receive monoclonal antibodies, with the hope that the treatment will lessen the severity of the disease and help people avoid hospitalizations. As of Monday, the CIC had performed 399 infusions, with only 18 of the patients receiving the treatment requiring hospitalization. 

"That equates to only 4.5 percent whereas studies have shown that about 15 percent who are that ill would have needed hospitalization," said Atkinson. "There have been state and national articles about how the medications needed for these infusions are going unused because hospitals either don’t have the space or the staff to provide the treatment. Our team felt like we had to find a way to make it work and the results have been very beneficial."

Infusions are limited to people who have tested positive within three days and had symptoms for less than seven days, and who have certain medical conditions, according to EAMC. 

Since the start of the pandemic in the area in mid-March, Lee County has had 12,901 cases, with 1,774, or about 14 percent, coming in the last 14 days. Lee County also passed a grim milestone this week as the number of Covid deaths climbed to 102.

With the new variant likely to become dominant in the U.S. over the coming month, the pandemic, which has killed more than 400,000 Americans, could take an even worse turn, although some experts cautiously say the country might be on the downward slope from the pandemic peak.

The possibility that the new Covid variant could lead to an increase in cases and hospitalizations again has put added pressure on the government to accelerate the vaccine production and distribution process. As of Monday, about 31 million doses of the two FDA-approved Covid vaccines have been distributed, but only 12 million have been given.

The Biden Administration wants to speed up the process and get more shots in arms, with President Joe Biden promising to get 100 million Americans vaccinated within his first 100 days in office. His health-care transition team has coordinated with vaccine manufacturers and is confident that production will meet that goal without putting at risk the required second dose the two vaccines require. He has indicated he plans to use the Defense Production Act to help in the effort to shore up the supply of vaccines. 

Auburn has five entities administering vaccines — EAMC, Thomas Pharmacy, the Lee County Health Department, Auburn Urgent Care and Auburn University Medical Clinic. 

Currently, the vaccine has only been approved for health care workers, nursing home residents and employees and those residents aged 75 and older. 

If you are eligible, you can sign up for a vaccine at EAMC by following this link

For more information on vaccines being administered by the Auburn University Medical Clinic, click here

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