Anniston’s Regional Medical Center said today it will again bar most visitors to the hospital as the number of patients it’s treating for COVID-19 keeps climbing and the virus spreads rapidly through Alabama.
The “strict no visitors policy” at RMC takes effect at 5 p.m. Thursday, according to a news release from the hospital. According to the release, the hospital had 30 patients in its COVID-19 unit Wednesday; officials have said RMC has set aside space for up to 42 coronavirus patients.
“We have seen a significant spread of the coronavirus over the past 14 days in our immediate service area,” Hospital CEO Louis Bass was quoted as saying in the release. “As we work to care for and treat our patients who need medical attention, it is critical that we reinstate our earlier visitor restrictions.”
Bass was unavailable by phone Wednesday morning, and attempts to reach other hospital staff were unsuccessful.
Gov. Kay Ivey announced today that Alabamians will be required to wear masks in public beginning Thursday.
The policy follows health orders originally instated in March by the Alabama Department of Public Health and Gov. Kay Ivey, according to the release. Visitors at RMC will only be allowed for end-of-life care or as support for people with disabilities, according to the release. A single support person will be allowed for maternity cases.
RMC made the announcement less than an hour after Dr. Scott Harris, state health officer, emphasized in a news conference with Gov. Kay Ivey that the virus was spreading quickly, with a third of all confirmed cases since the pandemic began added in only the last 14 days.
“We’ve added more than 18,000 cases in the last two weeks alone,” Harris said. He noted that the rising numbers aren’t a reflection of a change in testing.
“The percentage of tests that are positive continue to go up,” Harris said. About 17 percent of tests now return a positive result, he explained. “Clearly, we have more disease circulating in our communities.”
Harris spoke just after Ivey announced that Alabama residents must wear masks when in public or within 6 feet of people outside of their families. The new rule goes into effect at 5 p.m. Thursday, and lasts until July 31.
Another 2,141 cases were added to state totals Wednesday morning, bringing the total to 18,717 for the last two weeks. At least 1,183 people have died from the disease in Alabama since March 13, according to ADPH records.
Calhoun County, which had maintained relatively low case numbers in the first months of the pandemic, has seen its infection rates climb recently as well. As of Wednesday morning there had been 642 positive cases in the county, with 363 of them — about 56 percent of all positive cases — confirmed in just the prior two weeks. On Wednesday state officials added 70 cases to the county’s total, more than the double the previous single-day high. Six people in Calhoun County had died from the virus.
Medical experts in the county have pushed for mask use as one of the only preventative measures available to most residents.
Michael Barton, director of the Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency and a co-director of the county’s Unified Command System, said Wednesday that it could take time to see the effect of wearing masks, which would present itself through a reduction in new cases and fewer hospitalizations.
“What we have to consider in a small community like ours is that there are only so many medical resources available for inpatient admission. If COVID patients are filling that up, there’s less room potentially for normal, everyday medical problems that present at a hospital or medical facility,” Barton said. “The heart attacks haven’t stopped happening, the car wrecks haven’t stopped happening.”
Harris said that 30 hospitals in the state had limited or no intensive care unit capacity due to the rush of COVID-19 patients, with about 12 percent of ICU beds still available statewide. Those numbers come from around 100 hospitals that report to the Alabama Department of Public Health, according to the department.