The novel coronavirus, which causes the disease Covid-19, is sweeping through Lee County and the state of Alabama once again, as the increase in confirmed cases has spilled over into a rise in hospitalizations at East Alabama Medical Center and EAMC-Lanier.
Lee County has added 470 confirmed cases of Covid-19 over the past two weeks, or roughly 32 percent of the area's 1,463 cases since the outbreak began in mid-March, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health as of Wednesday morning. Hospitalizations at EAMC and EAMC-Lanier have jumped to 38 as of Wednesday morning, a number that has alarmed local experts. EAMC's peak hospitalizations from Covid-19 came April 11 at 54. The number of patients on ventilators has also risen to six.
"I remember vividly that first week in April when we peaked,” said Dr. Ricardo Maldonado, infectious disease specialist at EAMC. "The anxiety in the ER, the ICU and the Covid-19 floor. The hospital was reaching capacity with Covid admissions. Although there were no elective procedures and many services were shut down, the ICU was full with very sick patients. I saw even the toughest nurses break down out of fatigue and the feeling of hopelessness.
"I remember that the community called us heroes, and the support and love of our community was felt. We thank you for that support, because for those of us inside the hospital, it was like being in a war zone. Now, the heroes that our community supported earlier this year are once again beginning to feel the distress of what we saw in early April. Right now, we have massive widespread transmission in our community, unlike what we saw in April, which was made up of smaller local outbreaks in places like churches."
EAMC has also seen a rise in hospitalizations of younger patients with no underlying health conditions.
"Covid-19 cases are going up, and we are now seeing patients who are completely healthy and in their early thirties sick enough to be in the ICU," said Maldonado. "We even have patients in their twenties that are now hospitalized with Covid-19."
The state of Alabama has also seen a dramatic increase in the number of positive cases, with ADPH reporting the state has seen 13,665 of its 46,424 confirmed cases, or about 30 percent, come in the last 14 days.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey extended the Safer at Home order until the end of July, but has so far resisted reimposing any shutdown measures or instituting a statewide mask requirement when in public. Ivey only encouraged the wearing of masks at a news conference last week.
With no action at the state level, some counties and municipalities have taken measures, with Auburn set to further discuss a possible mask ordinance at a special-called meeting of the City Council, which could come via Zoom as early as today.
Maldonado and Dr. Michael Roberts, EAMC's chief of staff, both warned that unless the community improves its adherence to social distancing and mask guidelines, another shelter in place order could result.
"If hospitals get overwhelmed again, another shelter in place order could come, along with its devastation on the economy and mental health,” said Maldonado. "It is up to the public to help stop this upward trend in cases. We are all understandably tired of social distancing, we all dislike wearing masks in this weather, and we all want to get back to business and back to normal. However, not wearing a face mask inside a public building is simply irresponsible and selfish. I feel your pain as I also have family, friends and activities that I miss, but doing these few things to help stop the spread is a small price to pay to avoid another shelter in place order."
If you are experiencing any symptoms of Covid-19 — fever, shortness of breath, a persistent cough, loss of taste or smell, body aches, vomiting or diarrhea —, call EAMC's hotline at 528-SICK for a screening. The hotline is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
"We are all fatigued to some degree about the restrictions on gathering and travel related to the Covid-19 pandemic,” Roberts said. “We are tired of staying six feet away from people we love. We have postponed vacations, and we have missed weddings, funerals, and graduations. We are tired of putting on masks when we are in public. For some, it is because they are uncomfortable, and for others, masks seem to have become a political issue. As the current graph reveals, now is not the time to let our guard down."