As the nation enters the next month of the pandemic, COVID-19 continues to impact the community and hospitals continue in their fight with educating the public and keeping communities safe.
John Atkinson, public relations and marketing director at East Alabama Medical Center, stated that in the past few months that Auburn residents have adjusted accordingly as more is learned about the virus’ spread.
“It is much better than it was six months ago and even one month ago,” Atkinson said. “As a community, we have overcome two sizable spikes in hospitalizations — one in April and another in July — as well as a spike in community cases after schools reopened. I believe the mask mandate by Gov. Ivey helped tamp the spread of the virus.”
In the past few months, Gov. Kay Ivey has continued to extend the stay at home order and mask mandate. Ivey extended the Safer at Home Order until Nov. 8 on Wednesday.
As the summer months ended and students began returning to campus from all over the country, Lee County saw a spike in cases.
“By all accounts, there was a spike in community cases of COVID-19 after students returned to campus,” Atkinson said. “But saying it had an effect on the community’s health is a little more difficult to say with certainty. We had 62 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 on July 22, and that number slowly declined from that point forward until Sept. 5 when it reached 15.”
Sign up for our newsletter
Get The Plainsman straight to your inbox.
Despite a slowdown in the decline of case numbers, Atkinson identified why hospitalizations rose after a few weeks.
“However, one week later, it doubled to 30 patients with COVID-19. Throughout this pandemic, we have been able to watch as hospitalizations would rise about two-to-three weeks after a rise in community cases. While the community cases may be mild, it eventually reaches those who are more vulnerable and that’s when the hospitalizations occur.”
Because there is still much to be learned about COVID-19, hospitals and news sources have dealt with misinformation since the beginning of the outbreak. Atkinson stated that they have done their best to dispel the rumors that arise.
“That has been a battle throughout the pandemic,” Atkinson said. “At first, it was more about simple misinformation and we spent a considerable amount of time and resources on education because practically no one alive has been through a pandemic before. At some point, it became more about rumors and politics. We addressed the rumors as strongly as we could and asked that people not politicize the virus as that does nothing to help.”
While a vaccine for the pandemic could be months away, Atkinson hopes that the City of Auburn continues to participate in safe practices and also urges citizens to get a flu shot to cut down on a synchronous influenza spread.
“My hope is that people will continue to social distance and wear a mask — with or without a mandate,” Atkinson said. “Even when they are not able to social distance, we hope they will continue to wear a mask. We’re also stressing the need to get a flu shot this year. If people wear a mask when around other people, not only will it cut down on the spread of COVID-19, but also the spread of the flu.”
Atkinson expressed that EAMC is juggling regular care and COVID-related hospitalizations.
“We’re kind of living in two worlds right now and will be for the foreseeable future,” Atkinson said. “We must keep COVID-19 at the forefront by caring for those who are hospitalized and keeping those who are well from catching the virus. Meanwhile, we must be able to run the rest of the organization as smoothly as we can because there are still people who need surgery, who are fighting cancer, and a myriad of other reasons people seek health care every day.”
Hospitals have continued to support and praise their workers as it is an extremely stressful time for them.
“Our employees and physicians endured a lot of stress and weariness in the first couple of months,” Atkinson said. “But teamwork like I have never seen, combined with a lot of support from the community, helped everyone persevere. When we have low COVID hospitalizations, we encourage employees to get as much rest as they can because another surge is likely not far away.”
Atkinson stated the best thing the City of Auburn can do in order to continue fighting the pandemic is to maintain guidelines laid out by medical professionals.
“We feel like the best things people can do now are the same three things health officials have been preaching for months: social distance; wear a mask when you cannot social distance; and wash your hands frequently throughout the day and keep your hands away from your mouth, nose and eyes.”
Do you like this story? The Plainsman doesn't accept money from tuition or student fees, and we don't charge a subscription fee. But you can donate to support The Plainsman.Support The Plainsman