Since peaking in early September, the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 at East Alabama Health has consistently decreased. However, those requiring intensive care are there for nearly four weeks on average, as of Monday.
As of Sept. 27, 49 patients were hospitalized for COVID-19 at East Alabama Medical Center or EAMC-Lanier. Of those 49 patients, 17 were in the intensive care unit, 16 of which were on ventilators. About three weeks ago, when hospitalizations and ventilator usage were at the highest point of 2021, 93 patients were hospitalized, and 26 were on ventilators.
This drop-off in hospitalizations follows the statewide trend; hospitalizations fell since reaching a statewide peak on Sept. 1.
As of Monday, the 16 patients on ventilators had been hospitalized for an average of 26.24 days “and counting,” said John Atkinson, EAH spokesperson. One patient had been hospitalized for 50 days.
In December 2020, Atkinson said the average length of stay for hospitalized COVID-19 patients was 10.5 days, about six days longer than non-COVID patients.
“When you look solely at COVID patients in the ICU, a different picture is portrayed,” Atkinson said in an email on Monday.
Complications with support equipment — the things necessary to treat, feed, monitor and medicate the patient — and ventilator use are part of the reason the average ICU stay for a COVID patient is as long as it is. Positive pressure ventilation — what ventilators produce — puts patients at higher risk for a collapsed lung, in which case medical staff may have to place a chest tube in the patient, said Dr. Meshia Wallace, a pulmonologist and critical care physician at East Alabama Health.
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In addition, patients often find the ventilators uncomfortable and are typically sedated. However, these measures don’t always help the patients recover.
“Many patients with COVID do not improve significantly after being placed on invasive mechanical ventilation, and therefore we have to place them in a prone position (on their stomachs) to better help with oxygenation,” Wallace said.
Generally, once a patient requires ventilation, their odds of recovering from the illness decrease.
“Once a patient with respiratory failure secondary to COVID has decompensated to the point where they require invasive mechanical ventilation, the battle is just beginning and the chances of winning that battle has decreased significantly,” Wallace said.
As has been the case for the last few months, nearly all of those requiring hospitalization for the novel coronavirus are unvaccinated. As of Monday, 48 of 49 patients hospitalized at EAMC or EAMC-Lanier for COVID-19 were unvaccinated. In the ICU, all 17 COVID patients were unvaccinated.
Twenty-nine of the hospitalized patients were aged 59 or below.
As of Sept. 22, the most recent data available from the Alabama Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 dashboard, 38.57% of Lee County residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while 45.59% have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
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