The novel coronavirus has reared its ugly head once again, as cases of Covid-19 and hospitalizations skyrocket across the nation and state of Alabama, with local hospital officials expressing worry about the weeks ahead and asking the Auburn community to once again help "flatten the curve" to avoid the local healthcare system from being overrun.
"The support from the community — both here and throughout the nation —helped significantly flatten the curve in the Spring," said Brooke Bailey, EAMC's infection prevention director. "But, like New Year's resolutions, many people grew tired of the restricted lifestyle and drifted away from the steps that were helping. Now, here we are on December 1, and the cases and hospitalizations are far and away higher than in the Spring."
After falling to 30 a week ago, the number of hospitalizations of patients with Covid-19 leapt up to 45 on Monday before falling to 38 as of Tuesday afternoon. The jump to 45 hospitalizations marks the highest single-day total since Aug. 17.
"I think back to July 1 when we had 24 patients in-house with Covid, but exactly three weeks later we peaked at 62 patients," said John Atkinson, EAMC spokesman. "We definitely attributed that to the July 4th holiday, and that's what concerns hospitals throughout the U.S. right now. A lot of hospitals were already near capacity before Thanksgiving and now we all anxiously await what the seven to 10 days will bring."
There is also concern nationwide about the further impact Christmas travel and gatherings will have on the number of cases and hospitalizations. While there has been a recent spate of good news on the Covid vaccine front, the vaccines won't be available to most of the community for months, highlighting the need for residents to continue to social distance, wear masks and practice good hand hygiene.
"Covid-19 is unlike anything any of us have dealt with in our lifetime," said Bailey. "Of course, most people are excited by the prospects of the vaccines that are seeking emergency use authorization from the FDA as they could seemingly reduce the spread of Covid-19 greatly."
Bailey reiterated that Covid vaccines are still months away from being distributed widely, though.
"That's why it's important that people again work to help flatten the curve. We know that's a tough ask during the holidays, but we're asking it for the health of our community and for our employees and physicians."
On Tuesday, an independent panel, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, advised the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to first distribute coronavirus vaccines to at-risk health care workers and residents and employees of nursing homes. States aren't required to follow the guidelines, although the Alabama Department of Public Health's vaccine distribution plan lines up with CDC recommendations. Vaccines, which are expected to come in two doses — an initial shot and then a booster three weeks to a month later — will be free of charge.
A local company, SiO2 Medical Products, will play a vital role in getting vaccines distributed throughout the U.S. The company will supply the federal government with vials for coronavirus vaccines. That effort will get a major boost from the construction of a new distribution center, which will be built by a third-party company and leased to SiO2.
The Auburn City Council approved a non-educational ad valorem and non-educational sales and use tax abatement, estimated to be about $500,000 over a 10-year period, for the third-party Alabama Industrial Development Body LLC at its meeting on Tuesday.
The new distribution center will help SiO2 ramp up its distribution of the much-need vials, said Economic Development Director Phillip Dunlap.