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With hospitals at capacity, health officials expect double surge of COVID cases after holidays

The three COVID-19 units at Regional Medical Center in Anniston were packed on Tuesday, with patients waiting in the hospital’s emergency room and the ER at the nearby Stringfellow Memorial Hospital for a bed in one of the units.

Dr. Raul Magadia, the hospital’s infectious disease specialist, said staff were still caring for patients infected in the COVID-19 spike from Thanksgiving and the Iron Bowl. A few days after Christmas and with New Year holidays fast approaching, he expects worse to come.

“We’re going to have to brace ourselves for the worst for the next six weeks,” Magadia said.

He said a surge in COVID-19 cases should show up around Wednesday, based on the virus’ incubation period. Those cases won’t let up, he said, because the surge from New Year celebrations is coming right after.

Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Tiffany DeBoer said the agency had known going into the holiday season that COVID-19 cases would rise. 

According to Georgia Tech’s COVID-19 risk assessment planning tool, people in Calhoun County run between a 49 percent risk and a 75 percent risk of exposure to the virus in a gathering of 15 people. 

Those numbers are accurate, Magadia said, but they do not account for a new, more easily transmitted strain of the virus recently detected in the United Kingdom.

DeBoer said gatherings make the spread of COVID-19 easier, and can even put people who weren’t there at risk.

Dr. Almena Free, another physician who works closely with RMC’s COVID-19 patients, said locals should “absolutely not” have parties this year.

“Do not have family gatherings or friend gatherings,” she said. “Just celebrate with the people in your household.”

Magadia advised people to stick to parties over Zoom or another virtual platform.

DeBoer urged anyone who goes out for New Year’s Eve to wear a mask, practice social distancing and wash hands frequently.

Magadia said he discourages these gatherings, but anyone who hosts or attends one should avoid playing loud music to reduce the likelihood of people shouting to be heard — which raises the chance of spreading the virus — and try not to drink too much alcohol, which can lower inhibitions and make people more likely to hug or remove their masks.

“We prefer people don’t do that, but we know people are sick of staying home,” he said.

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