After reaching a pandemic high in Covid-19 hospitalizations between East Alabama Medical Center and EAMC-Lanier last Saturday, hospitalizations have fallen slightly this week as deaths mount and the surge brought about by the Delta variant shows no signs of abating in the Auburn community.

As of Thursday morning, 81 patients were hospitalized at EAMC and EAMC-Lanier, down from the all-time pandemic peak of 93 reached last Saturday. The number of patients on ventilators, 26, sets a new pandemic peak. All ICU patients are currently on ventilators, 21 of whom are unvaccinated. Hospitalizations have skyrocketed since Aug. 1, when 30 patients were hospitalized between East Alabama Health's two campuses in Opelika and Valley. 

East Alabama Health attributed the recent drop in hospitalizations to patients dying from Covid-19, with 10 patients dying in since Sunday. From Aug. 1 to Sept. 2, 26 patients died from Covid-19, compared to 28 deaths from March 1 to July 31 of this year. 

“While that may appear to be good news at first, the fact is that we have recorded 10 COVID deaths since Sunday, including two unvaccinated patients younger than 45,” said John Atkinson, East Alabama Health spokesman, in a news release. "“Furthermore, the ventilators in use remains at 23, meaning that other COVID patients declined during that same time and needed to be placed on ventilators. That’s a very sad, difficult cycle that is not good for anyone.”

On Tuesday, hospital officials gathered on the front lawn of EAMC to hold a moment of silence and reflect on the 273 lives lost at East Alabama Health since the pandemic began, more than 30 of which have come since Aug. 1. 

"Many of these recent lives lost could have been prevented by simply being vaccinated,” said Laura Grill, CEO and president of East Alabama Health, in a news release. “It’s extremely unsettling that we still have so many people who are willing to risk their very lives rather than to accept a free vaccine that basically assures them of a less-severe illness from the virus. It’s especially hard for our employees and physicians to continually hear the voices of regret from patients and families when they know they must face the reality of a possible death.”

The pandemic, largely, is now one of the unvaccinated, who overwhelming account for the majority of patients hospitalized, in the ICU or on ventilators in the state and locally. As of Wednesday afternoon, 66 of the 81 patients hospitalized were unvaccinated, as well as 19 of the 24 patients in the ICU.

“We cannot stress enough the importance of getting vaccinated,” said Atkinson. “In some cases, it’s only a matter of whether you require hospitalization. In other cases, it’s truly a matter of life and death.”

According to a study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and recently posted to the pre-print server medRvix, unvaccinated adults ages 18 and over are 17 times more likely to be hospitalized than vaccinated adults. The study has not undergone peer review yet. 

As of Tuesday afternoon, about 2,800 patients were hospitalized in Alabama, 52 of which are pediatric patients. In the past 10 days, 503 people have died statewide of Covid-19, bringing the total number of deaths attributed to Covid-19 to 12,420 since the pandemic began.

"We took that time today to acknowledge the 12,420 lives lost in Alabama — and the 273 lives lost here — but we also briefly celebrated the more than 1,800 patients who we have successfully treated at East Alabama Health and then discharged home to recover,” said Grill. “It’s important that our employees and physicians are reminded of the success stories we’ve had, especially during this tough time. We hope today serves as a reminder of the support we should all be providing each other amid the struggles of Covid-19. There’s no substitute for kindness and grace.”

The number of hospitalizations at EAMC and EAMC-Lanier constantly change, Atkinson. The number the hospital reports is just a snapshot taken at a specific time during the day, usually around 9 a.m.

"That does not include Covid-positive patients who are waiting in the Emergency Department for a bed assignment, either on a regular Covid floor or to an ICU bed," he said. "At one point on Saturday, we actually had 94 Covid patients hospitalized and had several more waiting in the Emergency Department for a bed to become available.

“In the past couple of weeks, we’ve had some patients — both Covid and non-Covid — have to wait 24 hours or more in the ER before being able to be placed in a bed on a nursing unit. It’s a pretty surreal situation at this point with little reason to believe it will get better in the immediate future.”

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