Covid-19 hospitalizations at East Alabama Medical Center have surged over the last week as the highly-transmissible Delta variant courses its way through the community and vaccination rates remain well below the national average.
On Monday, hospitalizations of patients with Covid-19 climbed to 30 at EAMC and EAMC-Lanier for the first time since the pandemic surge in January subsided in late February. As of Wednesday morning, 32 patients were hospitalized between the two campuses.
"An increase in hospitalizations quickly follows an increase in community cases and that’s exactly what we are seeing right now," said John Atkinson, East Alabama Health spokesman, in a news release. "Our emergency departments in Opelika and Valley, and the new East Alabama Medical Center Freestanding Emergency Department in Auburn, have all been seeing higher positivity rates."
Lee County has seen a spike in the number of Covid-19 infections, with 377 reported in the last 14 days,. as of Tuesday morning. Since the start of the pandemic in March of 2020, Lee County has had close to 17,000 cases.
"We’re again encouraging residents to social distance and wear masks when around other people, especially when indoors," Atkinson said.
The rise in cases and hospitalizations comes as the state of Alabama struggles to get vaccine shots into arms. Currently, Alabama ranks last in the nation in the percentage of its population vaccinated against the coronavirus.
According to data from the Alabama Department of Public Health, just over 33 percent of Lee County's 164,542 residents have been fully vaccinated. with close to 39 percent having received at least one dose.
“Vaccination remains the number one thing that people can do to help," said Atkinson. "It’s free, and would make a tremendous difference for everyone."
The push to get more people vaccinated is running headfirst into vaccine hesitancy and misinformation, which is being amplified by politicians and social media.
Last week, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey placed the blame for the rise in cases and hospitalizations in the state squarely on the shoulders of the unvaccinated, who account for nearly all of the new hospitalizations and deaths attributed to Covid-19 in the state. Ivey reiterated her position in an op-ed published in the Washington Post on Tuesday, saying the pandemic is "becoming one of the unvaccinated."
"I believe those who are pushing fake news and conspiracy theories about this vaccine are reckless and causing great harm to people. The unvaccinated folks are being lied to, and that is just plum sad," wrote Ivey in the op-ed. "This vaccine works, and we need to start acting like it. This is not political; It's just common sense."
The push to get more people vaccinated comes as the Delta variant has become the dominant strain in the country and in Alabama, accounting for upwards of 85 percent of current cases.
"This variant is at least 50 percent more contagious and perhaps more serious than other variants we dealt with earlier in the pandemic," said Dr. Ricardo Maldonado, infectious disease expert at EAMC, in a column released this week, which can be read in full on the Villager opinion page. "Nowadays, when I ask people why they don't get the Covid-19 vaccines, the most common response is, 'I am not done with my research,' The research has been done and the verdict is out. There is not need to wait and there is no time to wait."
In response to the current surge in cases and hospitalizations, EAMC has reopened its testing site, with the hours of operation 8 to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday. Those wanting to schedule a Covid-19 test should call EAMC's call center at 334-528-4YOU.
Those who have tested positive for Covid and want to see if they qualify for an infusion of monoclonal antibodies may also reach out to the call center.
"These infusions have proven to greatly impact patients and have prevented 224 hospitalizations in our community so far," said Atkinson."Only about seven percent of patients who have received these infusions have gone on to require hospitalization at EAMC."
The uptick in hospitalizations has also prompted EAMC to raise its visitation restrictions to "Red Level," with a possible reduction to one visitor allowed in some situations and no visitors allowed in others.
"We feel this is the most prudent move to make at this time to limit further transmission of Covid-19," said Atkinson. Visitors are now not allowed at Outpatient Surgery and Outpatient Tests and Procedures.
Vaccines are readily available in Auburn at the following locations, with the vaccine type offered and registration options:
• American Family Care; Moderna; 1902 College Street; www.afcurgentcare.com/south-college-st/
• Auburn Pharmacy; Moderna and J&J; 643 N. Dean Road; 334-521-0455; walk-in
• Auburn Urgent Care; Moderna; 1650-A S. College St.; call 334-821-3221
• CVS Pharmacy; Pfizer/Moderna; 1498 Opelika Road; www.cvs.com
East Alabama Apothecary (inside EAMC); Pfizer; 2000 Pepperell Parkway; 334-528-2293.
• Sam's Club; Moderna; 2335 Bent Creek Road; www.samsclub.com/covid
• Walmart; Moderna; 2047 E. University Drive; www.walmart.com