Updated 3:09 p.m. Tuesday, July 21.
The COVID-19 units at Regional Medical Center in Anniston had filled to 45 patients Tuesday, according to administrators, as the hospital opened a new unit to make space for even more patients.
Safety officials, health care administrators and first responders made a series of announcements in a Monday afternoon news conference at the hospital’s lobby, detailing the impact of surging case numbers in the last 14 days. As COVID-19 cases grew in other Alabama counties in late spring, Calhoun seemed to have somehow warded off the worst of the pandemic. But the county’s apparent high walls began to show cracks Monday.
“We need your help, because we are stretched right now,” said Louis Bass, the hospital’s CEO, to about 800 people watching the online broadcast. “We need you to understand, this is a very real issue.”
Members of the county’s COVID-19 task force, the Unified Command System, have said since the early months of the pandemic that hospital beds are a high water mark for the rising tide of COVID.
Nine of RMC’s then-44 patients were on ventilators as of Monday afternoon, Bass said, and 10 were in condition worthy of care in the hospital’s intensive care unit. The hospital opened a third COVID unit, adding capacity for another 14 to 16 people, according to Bass. The capacity of the original units was 42.
The total increased to 45 patients by Tuesday afternoon.
Anniston fire Chief Chris Collins said that more beds filled at the hospital with coronavirus cases means fewer beds for those with non-COVID conditions, including injuries sustained in car wrecks and other accidents.
“What the public needs to understand is that it’s a domino effect,” Collins said. “Once we reach that capacity it affects the hospital’s abilities on all advanced life-support care situations.”
The fire chief urged county residents to take COVID’s effects on the local health care system seriously and to focus on Calhoun County and its municipalities, rather than situations elsewhere in the country, or even the world.
“These are the facts,” Collins said. “This is what affects you personally.”
Calhoun County saw its cumulative case count rise to 849 since the pandemic began in March, adding 111 cases over the weekend and another 35 on Monday, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health’s daily totals. Of those, 444 were new cases confirmed in the last two weeks, according to the rolling 14-day total kept by the health department, accounting for about 52 percent of all county cases since March 13.
Statewide, another 6,964 cases were confirmed since Friday, bringing Alabama’s count to 69,075 as of Tuesday morning. Another 46 people died due to the virus in that time, raising the total state deaths to 1,268, not including another 35 deaths with “probable” ties to COVID-19.
Sheriff Matthew Wade said the Calhoun County Jail had its first confirmed case of COVID-19 this weekend, after an inmate tested positive on Friday. The jail had managed more than four months without a confirmed case in its inmate population; now the inmate is in quarantine, and more than 30 others in his section of the jail are to be tested.
“We’ve dodged the bullet up to this point, but we knew it was coming,” Wade said.
Four deputies have contracted the virus, Wade said, about two-thirds of the deputies on a regular policing shift for the sheriff’s office.
“Four doesn’t sound big until you hear six people is a complete shift,” Wade said.
Wade encouraged people with questions about the status of the jail to call the Sheriff’s Office, rather than listen to rumors online. He acknowledged controversy around masks — apparently some people have called to report individuals and organizations over lax mask use, even churches — but reminded county residents to wear masks and be respectful.
“We need to not forget how to be kind to each other during this time,” Wade said. “It never hurts to remember to be kind to your neighbors.”