Cases of Covid-19 in Lee County and hospitalizations at East Alabama Medical Center both climbed into uncharted territory this week, as the county's confirmed cases surged past 2,100 and hospitalizations reached a new high.
As of Wednesday morning, Lee County has had 2,117 confirmed cases of Covid-19 since the start of the outbreak in mid-March, with about 30 percent coming in the last 14 days.
Hospitalizations at EAMC and EAMC-Lanier reached a new peak this week, hitting 62 patients on Wednesday from a previous high of 54 on April 11. That upward trend is likely to continue.
"I expect we will have yet a higher peak in the next weeks," said Dr. Ricardo Maldonado, EAMC infectious disease specialist, on Monday. "And it's too early to tell what will happen in the coming weeks and months. Hopefully, the mask mandate currently in place will go a long way in lowering our numbers and keeping them low."
Last week, a new statewide mandatory mask order when into effect, requiring people to wear masks when in indoor public spaces, among other stipulations.
"I've seen some younger people in public with no masks. They are not afraid of Covid-19 making them sick, yet they need to understand that they could pass it on to someone who could become very ill or die from it," said Maldonado. "This is not about individual freedoms; this is about a community dealing with a health crisis we have not seen in modern history. In a public health crisis like this, it's important to think of the greater good. That's how other countries have been successful in fighting Covid-19."
While Covid-19 is generally more serious for those 65 and older, EAMC has seen an influx of younger patients over the past month. EAMC services Lee County, as well as several surrounding counties.
"We are seeing younger patients lately who are very sick. We have had patients in their 30s die from Covid-19, and three of our 12 deaths this month have been under the age of 50," said Maldonado. "Some people have a hard time taking this seriously because they have only seen mild or asymptomatic cases among family and friends. What we have seen in the hospital is that you can take two people with the same age and comparable health, and one will barely have any Covid-19 symptoms and the other will die from it."
Covid-19 has also hit local public figures, with Lee County Commissioner Johnny Lawrence and Alabama State Sen. Randy Price hospitalized at EAMC with Covid-19.
Price recently had to intubated, according to a post shared on Facebook by his wife, Oline Price, who serves as Lee County Revenue Commissioner.
Dr. Michael Roberts, a hospitalist and EAMC's chief of staff, addressed the misperception that Covid-19 deaths only hit those patients who are "at the end of their lives anyway."
"We believe that the lives of all of our patients are vaulable, and we do the very best we can for every patient," he said. "In the first peak, we did see a greater number of patients from nursing facilities. One thing that is different about this peak is that we are seeing many patients who are still in very active, productive times in their lives. This virus is robbing them of many years. We have an opportunity to save lives as a community by practicing social distancing, avoiding large gatherings, and wearing a mask. We can do better, and collectively we can make a difference."
Testing and early identification of those with Covid-19 is a key way to limit the transmission of the coronavirus. In response to the surge in cases in the area, EAMC's call center, at 528-SICK, has resumed screening patients on Saturdays. It's current hours of operation are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon.
The main symptoms of Covid-19 are fever, cough, difficulty breathing, body aches, loss of taste or smell, vomiting and diarrhea.