As fans descend on Auburn for a long-awaited normal football weekend with no mask mandates or attendance restrictions, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations at East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika and EAMC-Lanier in Valley has reached 91, a single patient shy of the all-time pandemic high of 92 set in January of this year.
After jumping from 71 to 80 hospitalizations on Thursday and again tying the high for the summer peak, EAMC’s COVID patient count increased by 11 on Friday to hit 91. That’s 20 more COVID patients in two days, or an increase of 28%.
Meanwhile, the number of patients on ventilators at EAMC, which set a pandemic record on Thursday with 23, dropped to 22 on Friday.
“We are doing everything we can to save every life that comes through our doors, and I mean everything,” said Dr. Meshia Wallace, a pulmonologist and critical care physician at EAMC. “Patients are on the ventilator, paralyzed, in a prone position, getting high doses of steroids, interleukin inhibitors, antivirals, dialysis. … As I said, we’re doing everything.”
Of the 91 COVID patients hospitalized on Friday, 73 of them—or about 80%—were unvaccinated, and of the 22 patients on ventilators, 18 of them—or about 82%—were unvaccinated.
While the most common age group for hospitalized patients was 60-69 years old, with 23 patients, the most common age group for COVID patients on ventilators was 50-59 years old, with six patients.
As the Delta variant spreads, younger age groups are being affected. For example, EAMC as of Friday morning had 22 COVID patients under the age of 50, including six under the age of 30, and seven ventilated COVID patients under the age of 50.
Wallace and other physicians and staff at EAMC continue to plead with unvaccinated people to go ahead and get the jab.
“Seeing patients, including a new mom, fight for their lives on a ventilator is excruciating,” she said. “Especially when it’s extremely clear now after eight months that the vaccines are safe and effective at keeping the vast majority of people out of the hospital and limiting critical care and deaths. This peak was very avoidable. It’s sad to watch so many people suffer.”
The number of hospitalizations and patients on ventilators would be even higher, according to East Alabama Health spokesman John Atkinson, if not for the 26 deaths of COVID patients at EAMC since Aug. 1.
Atkinson said the hospital, which operates 30 ICU beds, had 38 patients in need of ICU care on Friday morning. Of those 38 patients, 25 had COVID and 22 of them were on ventilators.
The work continues to grow for East Alabama Health staff.
The testing site is administering about 110 tests each weekday. During August, according to Atkinson, the positivity rate was 29%, compared to 21-24% for the state of Alabama during the same time.