Auburn area seeing increase in coronavirus patients needing hospitalization


Signs and painted bricks have been placed outside of the East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika, Alabama to show support for those working at the hospital through the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s just been a building of every day there seems to be something new and different that somebody has done to show their appreciation,” EAMC Chaplain Laura Eason said. “I can’t describe how it’s made people feel. It’s made all the difference.” (Photo by Giana Han)

An Auburn area hospital said Tuesday it is seeing an increase in coronavirus patients requiring in-patient care, a troubling uptick for an early hot spot in Alabama.

Officials at East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika in Lee County said that the hospital had seen a steady decline and hit a low point on Saturday with 19 patients who tested positive for COVID-19. Since then, the number has bumped back up to 27 patients.

The numbers also include those patients at EAMC-Lanier, a small hospital with 115 beds located about 21 miles to the north in Chambers County.

The EAMC hospitals peaked at 54 inpatients on April 11, according to data in Tuesday’s media update. The hospitals had seen a streak of nine straight days with a decline or no increase in patients testing positive needing hospitalization.

The hospital cautioned that the recent rise is not a reason for alarm. But the increase in hospitalizations is the first since late April at EAMC.

“This is not reason to panic,” Brooke Bailey, EAMC’s Infection Prevention director, said in the media update Tuesday. “But it is a perfect reminder that COVID-19 has to be respected and we cannot let our guard down. Just as good hand 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.”

In addition to those who have already tested positive, EAMC said it also has another seven in-patients who are believed to be positive for COVID-19 but are awaiting test results for confirmation.

Lee County, home of EAMC, has had 30 residents die from COVID-19. Together, with neighboring rural counties Chambers and Tallapoosa, the three-county region has accounted for 23 percent or 101 of the 435 deaths in Alabama. That’s according to the latest figures from the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Chambers continues to have among the highest per capita rate of infections in the state and Tallapoosa has the highest per capita rate of deaths in Alabama. In Tallapoosa County, 50 residents have died from COVID-19.

Despite the recent increase at EAMC, the hospital said only five patients required the use of ventilators on Tuesday. That’s down from a high of 22 patients on ventilators for three straight days in early April.

The hospital also urged those who may be suffering from coronavirus symptoms to seek healthcare.

“It’s important that people pay attention to their symptoms and not assume what they are experiencing is allergies or something else,” Bailey said in the update. “We’re pleased that our community is not seeing the level of disease that we were in March and early April, but we will likely see a need for additional calls and testing in the weeks ahead.”