East Alabama Medical Center joined other hospitals in the state this week in asking Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to extend the statewide mask mandate before it expires on Friday.
Ivey put the mask requirement in place on July 16 as an additional measure in the evolving Safer at Home health order first issued in late April. The larger health order is also set to expire on Friday.
Ivey will hold a press conference at 11 a.m. on Wednesday morning and is expected to extend the health order, as Alabama struggles to contain the spread of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
"We need to lower our census first, and so do other hospitals. We feel strongly that Governor Ivey should extend it for several more weeks," said Dr. Ricardo Maldonado, infectious disease specialist at EAMC. "Our Covid-19 census now is dangerously high, and we will likely go on critical care diversion this week, meaning that patients in need of critical care will have to go to other hospitals."
This week, Alabama passed the 80,000 mark of confirmed Covid-19 cases, with about 28 percent of total cases coming in the last 14 days. Confirmed cases in Lee County also continued to climb, reaching 2,356 as of Wednesday morning, with about 21 percent coming in the last two weeks. Lee County has also seen an increase in the number of Covid-19 deaths, which sat at 40 on Wednesday, with three more deaths listed as "probable."
The number of Covid-19 hospitalizations at EAMC and EAMC-Lanier has fluctuated over the past week and, as of Wednesday morning, sits at 57 patients, down from a pandemic peak of 62 on July 22.
"Our Covid-19 census is still very high in the hospital," said Maldonado on Monday. "We have one floor that is full of Covid-19 patients (36), the ICU has 12 patients with the virus and another floor has the remainder of the Covid-19 patients.
"If you consider a person's length of stay once they make it to the ICU, we only need a few more who get sick enough to need ICU care and we will run out of ICU beds."
Some patients with Covid-19 require a stay in the ICU that can last three weeks or longer.
Maldonado added that EAMC has tried to do its best to keep patients in regular beds and out of the ICU, but that the odds eventually catch up to you.
"Avoiding being transferred to ICU and placed on a ventilator is difficult when you have a census this high," he said. "Not everyone responds to treatment and gets better. People with advanced age, multiple comorbidities or who simply don't respond to our treatments and will eventually go on a ventilator."
As of Wednesday morning, 10 patients were on ventilators at EAMC and EAMC-Lanier. A month ago, on June 30, only one patient was on a ventilator.
Ivey's mask mandate was issued, in part, to help stave off a more restrictive measure, like shutting down nonessential businesses again. With schools set to open in the coming weeks, Maldonado stressed the importance of the wearing masks, which Auburn City Schools will mandate for students and staff.
"Wearing a face mask lowers transmission," he said. "There are still people in the community not wearing masks at appropriate times and in appropriate ways. Please train your kids and practice with them daily so they are used to wearing masks before returning to school."
Other school systems, including Lee County Schools, have pulled back on plans to reopen schools for on-campus instruction, opting to start the school year virtually. ACS has announced it will offer on-campus instruction as well as a virtual option, although its plan is tentative and subject to change.