Delta variant rapidly spreading

COVID-19 has returned with a vengeance, especially in the deep South.

The Alabama Hospital Association announced Wednesday that there were “negative 29” intensive care unit (ICU) beds available in the state. That means there were 29 more patients in need of ICU care than there were beds available.

DeKalb Regional Medical Center said Friday they were treating 11 COVID patients, four of those in the ICU.

“Like most hospitals in our region, we are once again facing rising COVID-19 cases. The new Delta variant is spreading rapidly, is highly contagious and has potential to be more lethal,” said Marketing Director Kati Burns Mallows.

She said the patient volumes and acuity levels change by the hour, and the hospital is closely monitoring staffing and equipment levels. However, staffing fluctuations and the surge in new cases is an ongoing challenge.

“We have created additional capacity by establishing a dedicated unit in the hospital to address the influx of COVID-19 patients. At present, we have 10 staffed beds available, which changes by the hour,” Mallows added.

Only 12% of patients in Alabama hospitals this week were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Alabama Hospital Association President Donald Williamson. Alabama is one of the least vaccinated states in the nation with only 36% of residents fully inoculated.

Mallows encouraged the public to help slow the spread of the virus.

“We are again asking our community to get vaccinated to… allow our hospital to maintain proper capacity to continue caring for our community. Vaccines have been proven safe and effective at reducing the risk of becoming infected, seriously ill, or spreading the infection to others. As a tool, vaccines are the most efficient and lifesaving measure we have against this virus. In addition to vaccination, we recommend following ongoing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols - wear your mask, wash your hands, and maintain physical distancing when possible,” she said.

The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) reports a significant increase in pediatric cases of COVID-19 at this time of year, compared to the same time in 2020. Coupled with this increase in cases, ADPH notes that Alabama has at least 50 children hospitalized statewide and has recently had at least 9 children on ventilators in a single day.

ADPH pediatrician, Dr. Karen Landers, states, “I am very concerned that the children of Alabama are experiencing more illness and hospitalizations as a result of COVID-19. Children can and do contract and spread COVID-19 disease. COVID-19 can be a very serious illness in children with at least 6 percent of children experiencing long-term consequences of this disease. Further, at least 113 children in our state have suffered from Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome of Childhood (MIS-C), a severe illness that occurs after COVID disease and affects several organs, including the brain, heart, lungs, and kidneys, among other body systems.”

Numbers based on data reported to Alabama’s electronic disease surveillance system reveal:

• Between August 1 and August 12, 2020, Alabama had 1,356 reports of COVID-19 in the age range of 5 to 17 years. In this same date range in 2021, there were 6,181 reports among 5- to 17-year-olds.

• In the past four weeks, 6.2 percent of cases of COVID-19 in Alabama have been among children 0-4 years of age while 8.1 percent have been in the 5 to 17 age range.

• The current percent positive rate in persons 5-17 in Alabama is higher than the state average, with at least 27 percent of tests in children being positive.

To combat this surge in disease, ADPH recommends all children ages 12 and above be vaccinated against COVID-19 with the approved vaccine product. ADPH recently issued School Guidance that any child who has the disease should remain in home isolation for 10 days in order to prevent spreading the virus to other students, staff and teachers.

ADPH further recommends, as part of its Isolation and Quarantine Guidance, that close contacts home quarantine unless they meet certain exceptions. Exceptions are having had COVID-19 disease within 90 days of exposure, fully vaccinated status, and, in the K-12 classroom, correct and appropriate mask use with three or more feet of distancing.

While urging all parents and guardians to listen to and read factual information from their pediatrician or other healthcare provider, Landers stated, “All Alabamians need to take the threat of this virus more seriously than ever before and implement all preventive and mitigation measures to protect the children of Alabama.”

Fort Payne City Council member Phillip Smith made an impassioned plea to citizens at the end of this week’s meeting to get vaccinated.

“For those of you who are not vaccinated, I urge you to reconsider that decision,” Smith said. “I know most of you disagree and that’s okay, but let’s first focus on the things we can agree on. You have the absolute right to choose whether you are going to get vaccinated. Nobody likes being told what to do. No one wants to have to wear these masks. Nobody wants to see our businesses affected by a slowing economy. We all admire our first responders, people who put their lives on the line every day. Policemen, firemen, ambulance drivers, soldiers, health care workers… We admire them because they put the welfare of others ahead of themselves. In other words, ‘The other guy matters more than I do.’ That’s why I am asking citizens to place the welfare of others above your own. Just like they do.”

He continued, “Make an informed decision, but please get that information from people you know here in Fort Payne who are fighting this disease on the front lines every day – not someone on TV or on the Internet, but people you know right here. They can answer your questions. They will tell you COVID is a horrible way to die. In the end, victims gasp for breath and die in agony. Often through a ventilator, dependent on supplemental oxygen, because their lungs have been completely destroyed by the disease. They’ll also tell you that nine out of ten people who’ve been hospitalized for COVID in the past month are unvaccinated.”

Smith said the only way to completely prevent infection is to cut off all human interaction.

“The vaccine is the only preventative measure you can take against the disease,” he said. “You are going to get exposed to the Delta variant, which is 1,000 times more powerful than the first round of COVID. One-thousand times more particles are in each cell when it attacks the human body. Please listen to our own professionals who live in and around Fort Payne. The overwhelming majority of healthcare workers in this city will tell you to get vaccinated. If not for yourself, do it for someone you love.”

The DeKalb County Health Department offers testing and vaccinations from 9-11 a.m. Monday through Friday.

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