East Alabama Medical Center is pleading with everyone in the Auburn community to shelter in place at home, as efforts continue to "flatten the curve" of the Covid-19 outbreak and help save lives.
EAMC has issued guidelines for community members to follow that go beyond what may be contained in the Stay at Home health order for the state issued by Gov. Kay Ivey last weekend.
EAMC issued the guidelines after looking at its predictive modeling tools, which paint a bleak picture the further away the public gets from 100 percent participation in social distancing guidelines. Anything less than 50 percent participation becomes unsustainable for the health care system in the area, sharply increasing the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
"Social distancing is the number one denominator,” said Dr. Michael Roberts, EAMC’s chief of staff. “If we do a poor job of that — 50 percent or less — then we’re in a situation where our hospital simply cannot handle the influx of ICU patients we will see or the number of ventilators we will need, and many people will die as a result. This includes even those without COVID-19 because we simply will not have the staff and equipment to keep up."
EAMC estimates that the current participation level in the Auburn community is probably close to 75 percent right now and perhaps better, said John Atkinson, EAMC's director public relations and marketing.
"That's obviously just a guess, but I believe people are doing better since the governor's stay at home order last Friday, as well as seeing the predictive chart that we put out last Friday," he said. "Hopefully, we are on the right path now."
EAMC's social distancing guidelines cover everything from grocery shopping to leisure activities to attending religious services.
Ivey's health order included an exception under essential activities that permits people to attend a worship service that involves 10 or fewer people and where the six-foot social distancing guideline is maintained.
EAMC is recommending that no one attend traditional church gatherings, or funerals, regardless of whether the event is being held by a place of worship. EAMC says that one pattern of infection recently identified in the Auburn community relates to people attending church services.
"We reached out to them, and Dr. (Ricardo) Maldonado suggested that we test some of the congregants who didn’t have the classic symptoms or any symptoms at all. The results were surprising," said Dr. Christopher Hope, who has been coordinating the efforts of EAMC's call center and drive-thru testing services.
About half of those who tested positive showed little-to-no symptoms.
"They did what they were told by authorities," said Hope. "There were only 10 people at a time in the building, but the infection still spread."
EAMC's social distancing guidelines define sheltering in place at home as "staying at home with immediate family members only, or those who normally live with you, and not leaving your home except for essential activities such as food, medical care or work. It does not mean "having friends, neighbors or family members over to your house or going to their house."
The guidelines also provide direction for what constitutes an "essential" activity, suggesting to leave home only when necessary to access food, work or receive essential medical care.
What doesn't qualify as a reason to leave home? EAMC says it does not mean:
• Going to the grocery store if you don’t have to. Get groceries delivered if at all possible.
• Going to the grocery store more than necessary or for non-essential items. Read more about grocery store tips here.
• Going inside restaurants to pick up food or get it to-go. Instead, choose a restaurant that has a drive-thru or curbside pick-up.
• Going to parks, playgrounds, nature preserves, or public places (i.e. having a picnic on Samford Lawn).
• Going to the lake if you don’t normally live there
• Taking your dog on a walk where you don’t live, or to a dog park
• Playing golf, tennis, or other sports that do not take place at your home
• Going to your neighborhood pool or a pool at a friend’s house
• Going on a walk with a friend or anyone who you do not live with
• Allowing your children to play with friends or anyone other than your own children, even if they stay outside and maintain a 6-foot distance.
• Visiting aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.
• Going to the dentist, chiropractor, massage therapist, therapy or other such wellness visits that are non-emergent.
• Going to the hardware store or supercenter to get gardening or home items that are not essential.
• Going to non-essential businesses "just to drop something off" that could be postponed, mailed, faxed, or emailed
EAMC wants to see 100 percent participation in social distancing guidelines to help flatten the curve, saying it's "the only real option."
"We can see the top of the peak in less than three weeks if we practice 100 percent social distancing starting right now," said Dr. Ricardo Maldonado, an infectious disease specialist at EAMC. "That means businesses can open back up sooner, people can spend time with friends and loved ones, and churches can meet sooner. The only real option —where this lasts the least amount of time and where the least amount of people die — is when we see 100 percent of our community practicing social distancing."
As of Thursday afternoon, Lee County has 195 confirmed cases of patients infected with Covid-19 and five reported deaths. Maldonado said last week that Lee County likely has "thousands of cases."
"The number of positive cases does not tell us the number of people with COVID-19 infection," said Maldonado. "We are testing less than 100 a day while we get almost 1,000 calls daily at 528-SICK. If we tested all 4 million people in Alabama at once, we could then know how many have it.
"Even if we did that, the next day, the number could multiply by two or three easily. The number of reported cases is just the tip of the iceberg."
In addition to adhering to social distancing guidelines, EAMC also wants the public to continue to practice good hygiene — washing hands frequently for 20 seconds with soap and warm water or hand sanitizer, not touching your face or surfaces that others might have touched.
To keep up with the latest updates from EAMC, go to www.eamc.org/patient-and-guests/covid-19-information/.
Follow state of Alabama updates at the Alabama Department of Public Health's dedicated page at www.alabamapublichealth.gov/infectiousdiseases/2019-coronavirus.html.
Get the latest updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html.