The number of people hospitalized at East Alabama Medical Center with confirmed cases of COVID-19 has more than tripled in one week — going from 9 patients on March 25 to 30 patients on April 1 — and the hospital is urging residents in Southeast Alabama to practice “shelter-in-place” mandates, even as the state hesitates to issue such a directive.
“While there is not yet a mandate to shelter in place, EAMC encourages it as the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19,” the hospital said in a statement. “Community leaders, city officials and the media have shared this important message, but there are still reports of groups gathering, children playing in neighborhood parks, dinner parties, bible studies and other events.”
Sheltering in place means you stay at home and don't leave your home except for essential activities such as getting groceries, medical care or going to work.
People can still be seen walking around Samford Lawn, neglecting the University’s request of staying away from campus.
"Auburn continues to ask members of the community to refrain from congregating on the Samford Hall lawn," the University told The Plainsman in email statement.
A recent guidance from Attorney General Steve Marshall clarified how local governments may issue their own versions of stay-at-home orders or curfews, just as Birmingham and Tuscaloosa have recently done. The local municipality must make the order or curfew “limited in duration,” allow for “reevaluation in light of new information” and cite “specific circumstances” that make stronger restrictive measures than the state’s more necessary.
The guidance also states that a “city or town may act on its own during a time of emergency,” but recommendations from state health officials are "strongly preferred.”
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James Buston, city manager for the City of Auburn, said the City Council does have the ability to declare a curfew, but he doesn’t see that happening soon. But he added that things “change by the hour” so the likelihood of a curfew being declared may change too.
Every state surrounding Alabama has issued a stay-at-home directive, but Gov. Kay Ivey has hesitated to issue such orders, citing concerns over the potential negative impact it could have on Alabama’s economy.
Last week, Ivey did order the closing of specific businesses in the state.
"If people want to do more individually by imposing your own shelter in place, you do not need my permission to do so," Ivey said in a press conference last week.
EAMC, however, is not waiting for the local or state government to declare measures that the hospital said it needs “now more than ever."
“Gatherings are part of our everyday life, and may seem harmless, but continuing to participate in such events will allow COVID-19 to spread further throughout our community and infect the most vulnerable among us,” EAMC stated in a press release. “Please stay at home with immediate family members only, and do not leave your home except for essential activities such as food, medical care or work.”
Lee County still has the third highest amount of COVID-19 cases in the state, though EAMC cites students returning from spring break and the county's larger young demographic as being factors for the county's high ranking.
EAMC has submitted 1,375 tests as of Wednesday, which has accounted for 17% of all tests in Alabama. Using the Alabama Department of Public Health's numbers from 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, the eight counties that EAMC serves account for 15% of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state.
John Atkinson, public relations and marketing director for EAMC, said they have a stable supply of ventilators, but the hospital is still in need of the following items: Industrial grade bleach wipes, alcohol wipes and latex-free gloves. EAMC is also still accepting isolation gowns, masks, latex gloves and hand sanitizer.
The hospital reported an additional 12 patients who are hospitalized and suspected of having COVID-19 on Wednesday.
There were also 16 people who were previously hospitalized with COVID-19 but are now discharged, plus 20 people who were hospitalized and suspected of having COVID-19 but have since received a negative test result, according to EAMC.
Elizabeth Hurley contributed reporting for this story.
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