East Alabama Medical Center reported its highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations on Monday.
The previous record of cases at EAMC — 54 — was set on April 11, over three months ago.
According to graphics provided by the medical center, EAMC was treating 58 COVID-19 hospitalizations on July 20.
Ricardo Maldonado, EAMC's infectious diseases specialist, said on Monday that this virus will likely continue surging through Lee County in the week to come.
"I expect we will have yet a higher peak in the next week," Maldonado said. "And it's too early to tell what will happen in the coming weeks and months. Hopefully, the mask mandate currently in place will go a long way in lowering our numbers and keeping them low."
Last week, Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statewide mask mandate requiring everyone to wear a mask or face covering in an indoor public area.
Even before the mandate was issued, refusing to wear a mask had become a popular political stunt for people who believe the government does not have the authority to require people to wear masks.
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In part because of this, the virus continued to spread rapidly in Alabama, and Ivey's mask mandate only came after the state had seen multiple instances when COVID-19 cases had increased by more than 2,000 per day.
"[Wearing a mask] is not about individual freedoms," Maldonado said. "This is about a community dealing with a health crisis we have not seen in modern history. In a public health crisis like this, it's important to think of the greater good. That's how other countries have been successful in fighting COVID-19."
The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has been steadily increasing across the state of Alabama since the beginning of June.
Some EAMC officials said that this rise in cases at the medical center is taxing for the medical professionals who are fighting the virus everyday.
"Last Friday, I visited our ICU for a little while," said Laura Grill, president and CEO of EAMC. "It was tough seeing how emotionally draining this is on our staff. They are used to caring for critically ill or injured patients, so that does not faze them. However, fighting a complex virus like COVID-19 every day and losing patients to it is very taxing on them as well as our staff members in other units."
Many of the new COVID-19 patients being treated at EAMC are much younger than the ones who were being treated in April.
"We are seeing younger patients lately who are very sick," Maldonado said. "We have had patients in their 30s die from COVID-19, and three of our 12 deaths this month have been under the age of 50."
Since the majority of people hospitalized and killed by this virus have been above the age of 60, many younger people have not been adequately following social distancing and mask guidelines.
Maldonado said that the younger people who have not seen this virus close up often do not understand the risk it poses.
"Some people have a hard time taking this seriously because they have only seen mild or asymptomatic cases among family and friends," he said. "What we have seen in the hospital is that you can take two people with the same age and comparable health, and one will barely have any COVID-19 symptoms, and the other will die from it."
Michael Roberts, EAMC's current chief of staff, reiterated this point and said that fatal cases of COVID-19 in younger patients can be especially devastating.
"One thing that is different about this peak is that we are seeing many patients who are still in very active, productive times in their lives," Roberts said. "This virus is robbing them of many years. We have an opportunity to save lives as a community by practicing social distancing, avoiding large gatherings and wearing a mask."
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