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COVID hospitalizations up; RMC in Top 5 statewide for number of patients

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 continue to rise in Calhoun County and across the state, a sign that a long-expected second wave of the virus may be on its way.

There were 37 COVID patients in hospital beds at Regional Medical Center in Anniston on Tuesday afternoon, CEO Louis Bass said.

“We’ve got both of our coronavirus units open, and if things don’t improve we’ll have to open the third, because we’re reaching capacity,” Bass said. 

Statewide, 1,001 coronavirus patients were in the hospital, the highest numbers Alabama has seen since August.

In recent days, health experts have been raising the alarm about rising numbers of new COVID-19 infections nationwide. Epidemiologists have long warned of a fall-and-winter surge that could be worse than the wave of infections the nation saw over the summer.

In Alabama, though, it’s difficult to tell how fast the virus is now spreading. Last week, the Alabama Department of Public Health accepted belated results from labs that had failed to report to the state as long ago as April.

The result was the biggest-ever one-day surge in the state’s coronavirus numbers — Calhoun County added 340 cases to its total count on Friday — which makes it hard to chart the real direction of the virus. Many of the cases reported over the weekend are old, but the data dump skewed the numbers health officials would normally use to track new cases.

“It’s good, in a way. At least it corrects the history,” said Dr. Karen Landers, an assistant director at ADPH.

One event over the weekend is easier to interpret. RMC added 11 new coronavirus patients during the weekend, hitting a total of 38 on Monday night before dropping to 37 Tuesday.

Bass said that lands the hospital in the top five in the state for total number of COVID patients. UAB in Birmingham had 73 coronavirus patients Monday night, Bass said, citing a state report. Hospitals in Huntsville, Mobile and Tuscaloosa also had more COVID patients than RMC. 

Health officials watch hospitalizations closely because of the potential of the virus to overwhelm the medical system with severely ill patients. Hospitalizations in Alabama peaked at about 1,600 statewide in August, then dropped to the 700 range after state health officials imposed a mandatory mask order. That number has climbed every day for the past week.

Landers said the message for the public is still the same: wear masks, wash your hands and keep a safe distance from others.

“We don’t have much to stop this virus except what we’ve talked about over and over and over,” Landers said.

As of Tuesday, 4,647 people in Calhoun County have or have had COVID-19, according to ADPH. In the county, 53 people are confirmed dead from the virus, with another eight deaths suspected to be caused by COVID.

Statewide, 2,892 people have died from the virus.

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