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COVID kills four in Calhoun County in 24 hours

RMC COVID NURSES

Respiratory Therapist Valencia Coleman transports an IV pole to a room on the COVID floor at Regional Medical Center in Anniston.

Four patients at Anniston’s Regional Medical Center died of COVID-19 in 24 hours on Monday and Tuesday, infectious disease specialist Dr. Raul Magadia said Tuesday. 

For RMC, it’s the deadliest day of the entire pandemic. All four of the dying patients were unvaccinated. Magadia said. 

“I’ve never seen so much death in a 24-hour period,” Magadia said. 

The sudden spate of coronavirus deaths comes a month after much of the nation celebrated a symbolic end to the pandemic. With vaccines available and free, many people across the country used the Independence Day holiday to mark a return to normal life, without masks or social distancing. 

Alabamians, though, left out a key step in the comeback plan. Two out of every three Calhoun County residents have yet to roll up their sleeves for a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine, according to statistics from the Alabama Department of Public Health. Only 28 percent have completed the full series of shots. 

Enter Delta, the variant strain of the virus that burned through India and the United Kingdom earlier this year. Far more contagious than the original COVID strain, according to health officials, the Delta variant has filled up Alabama hospitals with lightning speed. 

A month ago there were around 200 people in Alabama hospitals with COVID-19. As of Tuesday, there were 1,694. That’s more than the state saw hospitalized at any point during the first wave of COVID infections in 2020.

Doctors at RMC warned about a coming wave of infections, but even they are struggling to keep up with the rush of new infections. On Monday, RMC officials said they planned to reopen the hospital’s second COVID ward, which was closed and returned to use by non-COVID patients earlier this year as the virus waned. 

As of Tuesday, doctors were still working to find places for the non-COVID patients in that ward, even as more coronavirus patients arrived and had to receive treatment in the emergency room. 

“Right now, the ER basically is our COVID Two,” Magadia said. 

The total count of COVID patients at the hospital Tuesday was 32. At the height of the pandemic in January and February, the patient count sometimes topped 80. Back then, though, Magadia said he never saw more than three patient deaths in a single day. 

One major difference, he said, is that patients now are getting sicker, faster. 

“It almost feels like a bottomless pit,” he said.

Magadia said the patients who died range in age from late 50s to mid-70s. 

Doctors are quick to note that the current surge is entirely preventable. Vaccines remain widely available and free. ADPH statistics show an increase in new vaccinations in Alabama over the past two weeks, though the pace of new shots isn’t near the numbers seen during mass-vaccination drives earlier this year. 

Until recent days, the Delta surge hasn’t come with a similar surge in COVID deaths, but it may only be a matter of time before that changes. In Calhoun County, the official death toll stands at 334 — a number that reflects two people who died of the disease last week, but doesn’t yet reflect the four deaths this week.

Most local school systems start classes in the first half of August, and Anniston City Schools is the only system in the county with a clearly announced mask mandate. The Alabama Department of Public Health earlier this week released recommendations for schools, including universal mask use. 

State legislators earlier this year passed a law that blocks schools from requiring vaccination against COVID-19.

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