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Another Calhoun County COVID spike as spread of virus continues

Four COVID patients were on ventilators and 15 were in hospital beds at Anniston’s Regional Medical Center Monday as COVID-19 continues to spread in the least-vaccinated state in the Union.

Seven of the 15 patients were admitted over the weekend, doctors say, and there’s no sign the surge is letting up.

“Only one of the people hospitalized right now has been vaccinated, and that patient is our most stable patient,” said Dr. Raul Magadia, an infectious disease specialist at RMC.

People across the country took a sort of post-pandemic victory lap on Independence Day weekend, emerging from pandemic isolation to celebrate the arrival of vaccines and the decline in deaths from coronavirus.

But vaccines work only when they’re in arms, and most arms in Alabama haven’t had a single jab of any sort of COVID-19 immunization.

In Calhoun County,  the number of vaccinated people has been climbing at a snail’s pace, with 67 percent of residents completely unvaccinated as of Monday morning.

That means two-thirds of the county’s residents are as vulnerable to the virus as they were during last winter’s surge — which was responsible for many of the county’s 332 COVID deaths.

Alabama has seen a stunning rise in coronavirus cases since hitting a low earlier this month. On July 3, there were 179 people in hospital beds with COVID statewide. By Sunday, there were 870, more than four times the July 3 number.

Doctors initially rejected the notion that July 4 events contributed to the rise in virus cases. Now, Magadia is not so sure. The fast-spreading delta variant almost certainly plays a role in the current surge, he said, and some of the county’s current hospitalizations seem to trace back to the holiday weekend.

“We might slow down in a week, when the July 4 cases subside,” he said. “The sad thing is that in two weeks, school starts again.”

Lawmakers earlier this year prohibited schools from requiring students to get COVID shots. Most local schools are set to reopen with in-person classes in August. At least one local school system, Anniston City Schools, plans to reopen with a mask requirement.

Magadia said many of the patients showing up in the last week have diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms, something that in the past wasn’t typically the first symptom of COVID.

As the virus surges, doses of vaccine are set to spoil on the shelves. Tom Dixon, director of Oxford Health Systems, confirmed Monday that the health care authority still has doses on hand that will expire at the end of this week. Interest in getting the shot, he said, has picked up in the past week, but not by much.

“We’re getting more calls, but I can count them on one hand,” Dixon said.

Oxford Health for months operated a drive-in vaccine clinic, but opted out of reordering vaccines this month because local interest in the shots was so low.

“You have to ask yourself if it’s ethical to order vaccines that won’t be used,” Dixon said.

Anniston city officials announced Monday that the city would host a vaccine clinic Wednesday from 9 a.m.-noon at Carver Community Center.

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