OPELIKA, Ala (WRBL) – The fifth COVID-19 surge is setting a grim milestone as East Alabama Health hospitalizations reached a pandemic high on Tuesday with 100 patients. The wave comes as more than 100 hospital workers are out sick, with COVID putting additional strain on an already stressed health care system.
Twenty-two months into the COVID-19 pandemic a weary East Alabama Health hospital staff is once again handling a surge due to the rapidly spreading Omicron variant. Unfortunately, low vaccination and booster rates and more breakthrough cases are not helping. Of the 100, 80 are age 50 or older, and 60 of the 100 are unvaccinated.
“Overall, it seems as if they are better if they are vaccinated, most of the ones in the ICU are unvaccinated, and most of the ones on ventilators are unvaccinated,” said East Alabama Health Spokesperson, John Atkinson.
Unlike the Delta-peak, the hospital can’t rely on a readily available supply of monoclonal antibody infusions to help keep people out of the hospital.
“The COVID infusions were a game-changer for Delta, and we did a little over 3,000 infusions. Omicron is now 99.5 percent of all cases in the United States according to the CDC, and the drug we were using for the Delta variant to help with the Covid infusions, that drug is not effective against the Omicron variant, so we switched drugs,” said Atkinson.
Supplies of the new drug—Sotrovimab—are in short supply. As a result, the drug is on allocation nationally, and the amount provided is a long way from meeting the needs of hospitals, including at East Alabama Health. EAMC has received only 34 infusions tailored to treat Omicron. The hospital expects to receive an additional six infusions on Thursday, not nearly enough for the demand.
“Obviously, we had hoped for more than that, so do other hospitals; unfortunately, it’s not, and there is a shortage statewide and nationwide,” said Atkinson.
East Alabama Health has cared for 2,500 COVID patients in the past two years, with 349 patients unable to overcome the virus.
“It’s a very stressful time at the hospital, but everybody has been pulling extra weight. We have non-clinical workers going to the floors and acting as runners, working on different shifts and at night. We have administrators and vice presidents working the testing site over the weekends. Everybody is going above and beyond,” said Atkinson.
Hospital officials are urging the public to get vaccinated if you haven’t and get boosted – if you can. Social distance, mask up and be safe. Specific statistics regarding the number of fully vaccinated who have received a booster is not available, but statewide estimates show it to only be around 20 percent. Immunity following the initial doses has been shown to wane after a few months. The booster shot helps restore it to a higher level and prevents severe disease if a breakthrough case occurs.
The moving 7-day positivity rate for Lee County is 44.7 percent, and the pediatric population is around 40-percent. Local schools are now back to masking. In Auburn alone, school leaders reported 493 confirmed COVID cases between January 10th and 14th.
East Alabama Health has plans to conduct COVID-19 testing for at least two more weeks for symptomatic people. Testing is taking place on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Weekday testing includes Lee County EMA and the Auburn University and Southern Union Schools of Nursing assistance. Appointment scheduling begins one day in advance of each testing day. Appointments may be made by calling 334-528-4YOU (4968).