As the nation enters the next month of the pandemic, COVID-19 continues to impact the community and hospitals continue in their fight toward keeping Auburn safe.
John Atkinson, public relations and marketing director at East Alabama Medical Center, stated that both the city of Auburn and the University have handled the spikes well.
“I think our area is really not that much different than other similar size areas of the state or country,” Atkinson said. “We’re all overwhelmed with hospitalizations. We went through a rough patch last August and September with students testing positive, but overall, I think the university rebounded well. Hopefully, we can have their support again to limit cases which can lead to hospitalizations of other populations.”
Despite news of the vaccine in Auburn, Atkinson discussed how the pandemic is far from being over.
“It’s great to have vaccinations beginning,” Atkinson said. “But it’s going to be several months before we get at least 50-70 percent of our population vaccinated in order to have some level of herd immunity. A rough estimate is that only about 10 percent of Lee County has had either the virus or the vaccine so far.”
Atkinson urged the public to trust in the vaccine and its technology.
“The vaccine is new, but the messenger RNA technology behind it has been worked on for years,” Atkinson said. “It’s important that people trust the vaccine and welcome it when they are eligible for it. As one of our doctors noted, we still have some unknowns regarding the vaccine as far as how long immunity will last and the possible side effects over time. However, we know the devastation that COVID has caused, so in this particular case, the unknown is easier to come to grips with than the known.”
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The hospital has been proactive in stopping the spread of misinformation. Atkinson stated that while the spread of misinformation is not as frequent as it was in the early days of the pandemic, they still try to address any rumors that may arise.
“We don’t get as much misinformation now as early on,” he said. “If they post their misinformation on our social media channels, we will address it straightforwardly with the facts without being argumentative. We’ve also presented Myth and Fact graphics to help counter such information.”
As the pandemic enters a new stage, Atkinson described how the hospital has changed as the staff faces new challenges.
“It’s quite different from a year ago,” Atkinson said. “We don’t have our volunteers there to help guide visitors, but we also have strict visitor guidelines. We have screening stations at all entrances. Employees and physicians are even more like family now because of the teamwork needed to battle this virus for 10 months now. But our staff is tired and needs the help of the community to slow the spread until the vaccines can begin to take effect and that is likely up to six months away.”
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 Jan. 22.
Atkinson stated that the best thing that can be done is to continue to socially distance and also wear a mask whenever you can.
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