Atmore area sees sudden spike in positive cases
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
COVID-19, seemingly in decline over the past few weeks, has rebounded. The virus, especially its omicron variant, has returned with a vengeance across the nation, including a strong presence in the Atmore area.
Atmore Community Hospital (ACH) officials report that nearly half the local facility’s admissions are for COVID-related illnesses. Emergency department visits and visits to various doctors’ offices and clinics because of the virus are also on the rise.
“Atmore Community Hospital has seen a significant increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations,” said Ashley Strawbridge, who manages patient safety and employee health at ACH. “Currently, 45 percent of inpatients are COVID-19 positive. Just two weeks ago, ACH had no COVID-19 positive inpatients. Outpatient COVID-19 numbers in the emergency department and ACH physician clinics have also seen a drastic increase in COVID-19 cases.”
Jeff Booth, CEO of Escambia County Healthcare Authority (ECHCA), said the omicron variant, which is more communicable but less virulent, has been the most prevalent form of COVID seen here.
“We have been seeing a very high transmission rate of the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus,” said Booth, speaking of ACH and D.W. McMillan Medical Center in Brewton. “Most symptoms are very mild, almost flu-like, and the issues we are seeing haven’t been as active in the chest as the past two strains of COVID-19.”
The county’s top healthcare official added that several individuals still show up at ACH and DWM to have testing done, taxing the resources of each hospital’s emergency departments.
“We continue to urge everyone please do not to come to the emergency departments for testing,” he said. “Emergency departments are for injured and very severe issues. Go to your doctor, After Hours or MedPlus.”
While the novel coronavirus is keeping healthcare officials and employees hopping, it is also affecting the city’s two major public safety agencies.
“For the past three weeks, we’ve been battling upper respiratory illnesses,” Police Chief Chuck Brooks said. “We’ve had a couple of our personnel test positive, but they’ve already gone through quarantine and are back to work.”
The police chief noted that the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requires a five-day period of isolation, but each stricken APD officer is required to quarantine for 10 days and to be symptom-free before being cleared for return to duty.
“We’re trying to take as much precaution as we can,” he said.
Fire Chief Ron Peebles said his department, with fewer employees, has been hit even harder.
“I had three men out with it last week,” Peebles said. “Two are back at work; the other just tested positive yesterday (Sunday, January 9).”
He added that the upswing in local cases keeps firefighters and other emergency personnel in a constant state of exposure.
“A bunch of the medical calls we’ve had lately have been COVID-related, so we’re exposed to it every day,” he said.
Mayor Jim Staff reported Monday, January 10, that two of the city’s administrative employees, including City Clerk Becca Smith, have missed work due to the virus, while Streets & Sanitation Department Director Calvin Grace said only one of his employees had contracted COVID.
“It’s not been too bad so far,” said the mayor, crossing his fingers.
The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) website showed that more than 63,000 new cases were reported across the state between January 4 and January 11, almost twice the previous high for a seven-day period.
Nearly 500 (494) of those new cases are in Escambia County. The county’s total case count reached 8,001 on January 4, with two more deaths added to the 148 reported previously.
Data published by ADPH shows that through January 10, Escambia County has shown a 48.7 percent positivity rate from COVID tests (the state rate is 41.1), and that 48 percent of the community has been fully vaccinated against the virus.
ECHCA’s Booth urged locals to get vaccinated and to wear proper face coverings when around others.
“We encourage everyone to get a vaccine; it helps to ease the severity of the sickness if you do contract the virus,” he said. “We also continue to encourage everyone to keep our community safe by wearing your mask.”