Number of cases has soared since June
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Visitors to patients confined to Atmore Community Hospital are discovering that several safety precautions — including some that have been in place for nearly two years — are still in place. And, with the recent national upswing in confirmed COVID-19 cases, more restrictions could be returning.
ACH Administrator Brad Lowery noted this week the dramatic increase in the number of residents entering the hospital or seeking treatment at doctors’ offices and clinics because of COVID-19 symptoms.
“COVID cases have increased significantly in the last few weeks in Atmore and surrounding areas,” Lowery said. “We are seeing the volume of outpatient clinic cases, emergency department cases and patients needing hospitalization increase rapidly.”
The hospital administrator’s statements are confirmed through data furnished by Escambia County Health Care Authority and Alabama Department of Public Health.
On June 29, the virus had appeared to reach its peak locally. State and county health officials announced on that date that 4,034 cases had been confirmed in Escambia County. The appearance of a downswing was magnified when only four local cases were reported the following week.
Since then, the local case numbers have continued to climb. Over the past three reporting periods, through July 27, the number of new cases increased weekly — by 12, then 69, then 113. Eighty-two county residents had died from COVID-19 through July 27. The state’s numbers have increased by more than 24,000 during that same period, with 11,492 deaths having been attributed to the virus so far.
Lowery noted that the novel coronavirus and its variant seem to be afflicting younger adults and children at an alarming rate. He pointed out that most, but not all, of the new cases have been contracted by people who have not been vaccinated.
“COVID-19 is continuing to have a significant impact on our community and our hospital,” he said. “We are seeing positive cases in younger portions of the population at a higher average than before. While some vaccinated patients have tested positive, the positive cases we are seeing are predominantly unvaccinated individuals.”
Alabama has the lowest vaccination percentage of any state in the U.S. To help combat that, free vaccinations are being offered on Mondays in August at the Atmore and Brewton health departments. Several pharmacies in the area, including Walgreen’s and Walmart in Atmore, are also administering the vaccines.
Lowery said some of the local hospital’s restrictive protocols are already in effect for all visitors. Others could be added, depending upon whether or not an increase occurs in patients seeking emergency treatment for COVID symptoms, or if an increase in the vaccination rate will slow the virus down.
“While we have maintained many safety precautions, such as screening upon entry, from the start of COVID, we have re-implemented some of the more restrictive safety measures,” he said. “We will continue to work with our infection control department and our medical staff to make our patients and our employees as safe as possible.”
State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris reinforced the reality that vaccination, along with a basic safety and personal hygiene program and social distancing, are the keys to preventing the spread of the virus, especially among school children.
“Vaccination remains our most potent strategy for preventing disease among students, faculty and staff,” Harris said in a letter to the state’s public school systems and private schools. “Vaccination also eliminates the need for quarantine among many of the close contacts in our schools. Other mitigation strategies, such as face coverings, distancing, and hygiene measures are also important, especially in those communities that are experiencing high levels of (virus) transmission.”
No announcement has been made by Escambia County School System officials or officials of any of the city’s three independent schools, regarding mask requirements or other safety precautions for students, faculty and staff as the new school term begins.
However, in response to the increase in confirmed cases among younger individuals, a guide for parents and guardians of school-age children (K-12) is available on the ADPH website. The newly revised toolkit may be viewed at alabamapublichealth.gov/covid19/assets/cov-school-guidance.