The rapid spread of COVID-19 may be overwhelming health care facilities elsewhere, but Anniston's two hospitals have yet to admit a patient suffering with the coronavirus.
Eight people have tested positive Calhoun County, according to state numbers released Monday afternoon. But if any of those people later needed hospitalization, Regional Medical Center CEO Louis Bass said Monday morning, they didn't seek it at RMC, or its sister hospital, Stringfellow.
"We've not had any admissions of people who are positive for COVID-19," Bass said.
The number of coronavirus patients continued to surge nationwide and in Alabama on Monday. The official state count passed 900 Monday afternoon, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. The number of cases in the state has doubled since Thursday.
Six Alabamians have died of the illness, by the state's official count. There have been no deaths in Calhoun County, where state numbers show eight confirmed cases, or in Cleburne County, where there are five confirmed cases.
There are still a lot of questions about who those patients are, and where they're being treated. State and local health officials, citing federal patient privacy laws, have typically provided only the county of location for most of the coronavirus patients.
Bass has told doctors he wants to know when the first coronavirus patient is admitted to RMC — and he doesn't want to know that patient's name.
"That way, when I tell the public I don't know the details, I'm being honest," he said, again citing patient privacy laws.
Bass said that as of Monday, the hospital has screened between 175 and 200 patients for coronavirus. Of the positives Bass said, none was hospitalized in Anniston — which means that if they did need hospitalization, they didn't seek it at RMC.
"What I know is that they're not in our hospital, and I hope that bodes well," Bass said.
The virus causes only mild illness in some people, but state health officer Scott Harris has said that 10 percent of Alabama's COVID-19 patients require hospitalization. Harris last week said that some hospitals are feeling pressure from a high load of patients. Harris didn't name a hospital or a city but Jefferson county has more than a quarter of all the state's COVID-19 cases as of Monday.
RMC and Stringfellow, between them, have 24 intensive care beds, though Bass cautions that hospitals use most of their beds even in non-pandemic conditions. The hospital also has seven negative pressure rooms, designed to house highly-infectious patients with reduced risk of spreading the virus.
Asked if RMC has faced any calls for equipment from other hospitals, Bass said the hospital has reported its numbers to state officials who are managing that inventory.
It's unclear where Cleburne County's five COVID-19 patients — a relatively large number for a county of 15,000 people — are being treated, or if they're in the hospital at all. The county doesn't have a hospital, and many people from surrounding counties come to Anniston for treatment, but Bass said he doesn't know whether any of the positives identified in Anniston were from Calhoun County.
Tanner Hospital in Georgia reports 24 inpatient cases of COVID-19 at its hospital in Carrollton and 10 at its hospital in Villa Rica. It's unclear whether any of those patients are from the Alabama side of the state line. The hospital reports its COVID-19 statistics on its website but attempts to reach hospital officials were not successful Monday.
Bass said RMC officials are also considering posting information about numbers of tests performed, numbers of positive results and COVID-19 hospital admissions — when they happen — in the near future.