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Regional Medical Center reopens to visitors as COVID cases decline

Regional Medical Center in Anniston announced Monday that the hospital is once again open to visitors, as the winter wave of COVID-19 continues to recede.

As of Monday morning, an RMC official said, there were 22 people in the hospital with coronavirus, compared to the 80-plus in hospital beds when the disease peaked in January.

“Week by week, our numbers are going down,” said Kristin Fillingim, spokeswoman for the hospital.

RMC canceled visitation for patients temporarily at the beginning of the pandemic and banned visitors again in December, as coronavirus cases began to surge in the wake of Thanksgiving.

The new visitation policy, effective Monday, would allow each non-COVID patient to receive a single visitor during visiting hours, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. That means one person will be cleared to visit the patient throughout their stay; according to the RMC announcement, the hospital won’t allow multiple people to cycle through the visitor role.

People who have tested positive for COVID-19 or are under investigation for infection won’t be allowed to visit, according to the announcement. Visitors will be screened for temperature on their arrival, will have to wear face coverings and aren’t allowed to eat in hospital rooms.

The same policy is in effect at RMC’s sister hospital, Stringfellow Memorial. End-of-life patients, if they don’t have COVID-19, will be allowed two visitors, according to the RMC announcement.

The policy change comes as the county and the state continue to gain ground against the coronavirus. Statewide, the number of COVID-19 patients in hospital beds dropped to just above 1,000 over the weekend, about one-third as many as the state saw a month earlier. The daily rate of new infections statewide is less than half what it was in early January.

It’s not clear how much of that decline is due to vaccination, but Alabama’s vaccination efforts continue to move forward. In Calhoun County, 5,000 people got their initial shots against the virus in mass-vaccination clinics last week. Statewide, according to Alabama Department of Public Health statistics, more than 125,000 people have had both vaccine doses and more than 450,000 people have had their initial dose.

The toll on the state in the past year, however, remains grim. In Calhoun County, 263 people have died of COVID-19, according to ADPH numbers. They are among the 9,244 killed by the virus statewide.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.