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‘The COVID-19 journey will be long’

Testing continues to increase as COVID-19 rates climb in Pike County and in the state.

As of Tuesday morning, Pike County had 259 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with one reported death. The Alabama Department of Public Health reported 98 cases confirmed in the last 14 days in the county, with 916 tests conducted in that timeframe.

Statewide, more than 21,070 cases have been confirmed with 725 deaths.

“Our COVID-19 hotline is really busy with calls,” said Amy Minor, chief clinical officers for Troy Regional Medical Center. “We’re collecting 30 or more testing samples every day … there’s a lot of testing activity.”

The hospital is one of several sites in the county which collects samples for COVID-19 testing. Others include SARHA, CHCHC, Ivy Creek, Southern Health Associates, Pike Internal Medicine and Troy Family Medicine.

Herb Reeves, EMA director for Pike County, reiterated that the virus continues to spread throughout the community.

“As of this morning, we have higher case counts than some of our surrounding counties, including Houston County,” he said Tuesday. “I think we’re going to be dealing with this for quite some time.”

“Pike County’s COVID-19 positive count continues to be higher than previous weeks after mid April’s peak,” said Rick Smith, CEO at Troy Regional Medical Center. “ Troy Regional Medical Center is actively watching to see if the re-opening of the state is impacting our COVID-19 count. Also, as we have discussed previously, with the summertime holidays and neighborhood celebrations, the chance for additional exposures to rise will continue.  We expected the COVID-19 journey to be long and models predict that our positive inpatient count would fluctuate over time.”

Reeves is also dean of student services at Troy University, and he said his department has been providing updates of self-reported COVID-19 cases among students, faculty and staff at the university’s COVID-19 portal.

As of Tuesday morning, the university reported 17 confirmed cases among students and seven among employees. The university identifies which students are living off campus or at other branches.

“Most of these student cases are probably not recorded in the Pike County numbers because their either not from Pike County or they tested positive at home in another county,” Reeves said. The ADPH records the positive test results based on an individual’s home county, not necessarily the county in which he or she was tested.

Reeves said university officials are looking ahead the fall, trying to determine what returning to on campus classes and living might look light for students. “Right now, we’re looking at some sort of hybrid model with in person classes and online classes, perhaps for some of our general studies courses that have a large enrollment,” Reeves said.

Cynthia Thomas, interim superintendent of Troy City Schools, said the public schools are awaiting directives from state superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey. “Those should be coming on June 19,” she said, adding that the directives likely will include a virtual option for parents who choose to keep students at home.

In the meantime, cases continue to increase across central Alabama, causing concern for health officials. Over the last 14 days, Montgomery county has had double the number of confirmed cases of Coronavirus (COVID-19) compared to Jefferson and Mobile Counties, according to statistics from the Alabama Department of Public Health. Jefferson County (population 659,892) has experienced 449 cases, and Mobile County (population 414,659) has had 427 cases.  During the same 14 days, Montgomery County (population of only 226,941) has experienced 825 cases.

“Montgomery and the surrounding areas throughout Central Alabama remain a hotspot for the virus, and yet many citizens appear to think the worst is over,” said Dr. David Thrasher, Director of Respiratory Therapy at Jackson Hospital. “I can assure you that Montgomery’s cases are not going down, and if our community does not take this seriously, the virus will continue to spread, and at some point, our medical capacity will reach its limit.”

COVID-19 hospitalizations throughout the last few weeks have continued to increase as have the number of calls from people with concerns about COVID-19. Baptist Health’s three hospital campuses combined had 127 COVID- positive inpatients on June 6, which is the organization’s highest number of positives since the pandemic began. This is up 51% since May 25. Jackson Hospital saw its largest number of COVID- positive inpatients on June 3, peaking at 57. This was a 67% increase within 24 hours.

In Troy, Smith reiterated that TRMC is prepared and capable of handling needs of COVID-19 and other patients.

“TRMC is well prepared for COVID-19 volume bumps and we will continue to be for as long as COVID-19 is around. The organization has a healthy supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and we have recently purchased equipment necessary to allow for additional negative pressure rooms for our isolation patients,” he said. “Our lab team continues to do a remarkable job with the collection of COVID specimens, even as the number of collections goes up each week. Our ICU rooms and ventilators remain ready for patient use. We have learned a lot since our first COVID-19 patients and our ED and Hospitalist team are very comfortable in providing the care needed.”

And, Smith said, the hospital and its medical providers continue to treat patients for all needs.

“Many of the physician practices now offer telehealth visits for those who prefer not to come into the office. But, if an in-person visit is required, the offices are being kept safe and are abiding by the same strict procedures found inside our hospital facility,” he said. “For those needing healthcare, do not be afraid. TRMC is prepared to care for and keep patients safe.