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RMC doctor discussed medical aspects of COVID-19

The number of new COVID-19 patients in Calhoun County is on the decline, according to officials at a live-streamed news conference on Monday.

Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency spokesperson Tiffany DeBoer said there have been 353 new cases within the past two weeks, significantly lower than it was several weeks ago.

“We’re seeing trends go downward,” DeBoer said before addressing county residents watching the video. “And that’s because of you.”

DeBoer encouraged locals to continue wearing masks, washing their hands frequently, and staying socially distant from one another.

Dr. Almena Free, a physician at Regional Medical Center in Anniston, said there were 17 people in one of the hospital’s COVID-19 units, and eight or nine were on a ventilator. In the hospital’s second unit, she said, there were seven patients.

Free said Monday morale was high among hospital staff, and counseling services and chaplains were available if they needed them. If there is another spike in cases, Free said, the hospital has plans for that.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, DeBoer said, there have been 2,168 cases in Calhoun County. 

Free said the hospital is working with a local funeral home to safely prepare and transport the bodies of people who have died after testing positive for COVID-19.

Free also said it’s now discouraged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Alabama Department of Public Health to retest someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 once they’ve recovered as a way to conserve resources.

Free said a patient can infect others within up to two weeks of their first exposure to the virus. She said hospital staff will be tested if they had to move patients from a COVID unit to another unit or to certain nursing homes.

While Free wasn’t sure if someone who has already been infected can be infected again. After treatment, she said, symptoms can continue for up to two weeks in mild cases and up to several months in severe cases.

“People that have been admitted back in March… They’re still feeling extremely ill,” Free said.

Currently, she said, COVID-19 vaccines are in the first of three trial phases.

Free said hydroxychloroquine, which has been often touted as a “cure” for COVID-19, is a drug often used in third-world countries to treat malaria. She said it’s not appropriate to use outside of a controlled research environment because of the side effects. By itself, she said, hydroxychloroquine can cause gastrointestinal distress and can cause deadly heart problems when combined with azithromycin, which is used for COVID-19 treatment at RMC.

“The risks against the benefit has been found to be not so successful,” Free said.

Another possible treatment, Free said, is using blood plasma from people who had previously tested positive for COVID-19. She said it is being used on patients who are “pretty sick” in a “research-type atmosphere.”

Contact Staff Writer Mia Kortright at 256-235-3563.