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RMC nears COVID-19 capacity as county numbers grow

Regional Medical Center

The main campus of Regional Medical Center in Anniston on Wednesday. The hospital announced it's barring most visitors as its COVID-19 units fill with patients and the virus that causes the disease spreads more rapidly in the community.

The strain on hospital resources from COVID-19 continued to increase Friday in Calhoun County, while patients with serious complications from the virus seem to be getting younger. 

Dr. Raul Magadia, who works in the COVID-19 units at Regional Medical Center in Anniston, said he has been treating younger people who are in serious condition, not unlike those in vulnerable groups like the elderly or people with preexisting health problems. An athletic-looking 30-year-old man had to be upgraded to the intensive care unit recently, Magadia said, and a 25-year-old spent a week breathing with a ventilator, which he was finally able to stop using Thursday. 

“I wish I could show those people who are still in doubt about masks and social distancing, or show them the families and what they’re going through,” Magadia said by phone Friday. “This morning I had to call the wife of someone I had been intubating ... you can imagine that kind of call.” 

As age demographics around the virus drop, the number of people who need care continue to rise. 

There were 35 people being treated in the COVID-19 unit at RMC as of Friday morning, according to the hospital, six more than Thursday. About eight weeks ago, the hospital reported that it had just one COVID patient left. Now, the 42-bed unit has room for just seven more patients, and soon hospital staff will have to decide how to manage care for new coronavirus patients and people suffering from more common illnesses and injuries. 

“Everybody wants to know what happens next, but we have to try to plan on a day-to-day basis,” said Kandi Williams, infection control preventionist and nurse manager for the hospital. More COVID cases will mean adjustment to procedures, moving units around to make space and more burden on the shoulders of healthcare workers, she explained. “When that increases, we have to figure out how to manage both; the amount of nurses doesn’t increase.” 

Medical staff at the hospital are still working hard, Williams said, but they’re feeling fatigue as the stress of managing viral cases ramps up. 

“It has increased in the hospital, but it has increased in the community, too,” Williams said. “A lot of employees’ families have been affected, and employees have been affected directly, too, and it strains the work force.” 

Infection rates in Calhoun County continue to climb, with another 44 positive cases reported Friday, bringing the total to 703 since the pandemic began in March. A total of 370 0f those cases — about 53 percent — were confirmed in the past 14 days. The number of deaths in the county remained at six on Friday. 

Meanwhile, the state saw its total cases rise by 1,953, reaching a total of 62,111 with another 980 suspected cases, and the number of deaths up to 1,232, with ties to COVID-19 in another 33 deaths considered “probable,” according to Alabama Department of Public Health numbers. 

Magadia said prevention is the best medicine for now.

“This virus is not going to infect you if it doesn’t meet you,” he said. “And how does it meet you? By not practicing social distancing guidelines, by not wearing masks.” 

Wearing masks can help people protect one another, he explained. Wearing a mask may only provide a marginal level of safety for the person wearing it, but someone with the virus — an asymptomatic person, someone with mild symptoms or who is in the early stages of infection — will be far less likely to spread the disease. 

“The virus doesn’t have wings, it doesn’t have legs, it doesn’t jump, it doesn’t fly — the best way to get it is in close contact with someone who is sneezing and coughing,” Magadia said, “and you could prevent that.” 

Assistant Metro Editor Ben Nunnally: 256-235-3560. 

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