After decreasing for nine-straight days, hospitalizations of patients with confirmed cases of Covid-19 at East Alabama Medical Center ticked up this week, an expected increase after the loosening of Stay at Home restrictions at the end of April.
The number of patients hospitalized with Covid-19 at EAMC fell from 44 on April 30 to 19 on May 9, before rising to 27 as of Tuesday. EAMC has an additional seven patients hospitalized with testing results still pending. The number of patients with Covid-19 on ventilators has fallen from nine to five during the same two-week period.
"This is not reason to panic," said Brooke Bailey, infection prevention director at EAMC. "But it is a perfect reminder that Covid-19 has to be respected and we cannot let our guard down. Just as good hygiene and social distancing helped us flatten the curve, it's equally important to do now so that we don't see a significant spike in the days and weeks ahead."
As of Wednesday morning, Lee County has had 432 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 30 deaths. Auburn has had 129 residents that tested positive for Covid-19 and seven deaths, according to Mayor Ron Anders, who gave an update on the pandemic to the Auburn Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.
The uptick in confirmed cases at EAMC comes as restaurants, bars, hair salons, gyms and many other businesses open their doors or begin offering on-premise services for the first time in over a month. The businesses got a green light to reopen on Monday from an amended Safer at Home health order issued by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey last Friday. Many retail stores started reopening their doors earlier in May with the initial Safer at Home order.
Businesses that reopen must adhere to restrictions, like limiting capacity to 50 percent, mask-wearing by employees or maintaining six feet of social distancing between customers.
"Covid-19 will not just disappear and we have to learn to live with it," said Dr. Ricardo Maldonado, infectious disease specialist at EAMC, last week. "Our lives will not be the same for a while, probably until a vaccine is available or until the majority of people have developed immunity. That will easily take another year and we cannot stay in quarantine that long. Cases will continue to occur. Reopening the country is necessary."
EAMC officials are encouraging residents to wear masks in public, to disinfect high-touch surfaces like door handles and counters, and to use hand sanitizer after touching grocery carts, doors and money.
It has become a common sight to see people wearing masks when venturing out in public over the past several weeks, although many residents have not heeded the recommendation, a stance that has drawn criticism from many residents on social media platforms.
Any barrier that protects the face is better than nothing, said Maldonado.
"Covering eyes with glasses or face shields, and mouth and nose with masks, are physical barriers to droplets that contain the virus," he said. "They are better than not having anything. The way we protect ourselves in the hospitals is exactly that way — we wear face shields and masks, and practice hand hygiene obsessively. They are not 100 percent perfect, but help."
The amended health order also gave the green light for churches to resume hosting in-person services, although with reduced attendance and social distancing guidelines.
"We had several patients who unfortunately got Covid-19 at church services and several of them died," said Maldonado. "The same situation will happen if we do not make changes."
EAMC's 528-SICK Call Center is still taking calls and screening for Covid-19, although hours of operation have been reduced. Currently, the hotline is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The call center is closed on Saturdays and Sundays for the time being.
"It's important that people pay attention to their symptoms and not assume what they are experiencing is allergies or something else," said Bailey.