Testing concerns grow as state hospitalizations hit record high

Published 8:39 pm Monday, January 4, 2021

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As the New Year 2021 dawned on Monday, Troy Regional Medical Center was experiencing a shortage of supplies for in-house testing for COVID-19.

“Right now, we are collecting specimens but they have to be sent to the state lab for testing, said Rick Smith, TRMC CEO. “The test results could take three to four days, depending on the volume coming in to the state.”

Smith and Alice Teal, TRMC lab manager and information services director, said what is occurring is a matter of supply and demand.

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More analyzing is being done, therefore, there is greater demand for testing supplies, they said.

“We are trying to preserve supplies for our emergency room and for in-house patients,” Smith said. “We must provide for the safety and security of our own people. However, these are the same steps we were going through 10 months ago when the coronavirus first started.”

Teal said, since March, TRMC has tested between 15,000 and 20,000 people for COVID-19.

“More people are being tested, therefore, more supplies are needed,” Teal said. “It is increasingly more difficult to keep up with the demand.”

Teal urged that people not rush to be tested.

“Testing supplies are in very short supply,” she said. “So, if you think you have been exposed to the coronavirus, stay isolated and wait to see if symptoms appear before being tested.”

Due to a shortage of supplies, Ivy Creek was testing on Monday but only those who displayed symptoms of the COVID-19.

Christy Shelton, Southeast Alabama Rural Health Associates director of assurance, said SARHA has testing supplies and is doing rapid tests for the coronavirus.

Alabama hits new high for virus hospitalizations

Meanwhile, Alabama on Monday hit a new high for the number of COVID-19 patients in state hospitals with more than 3,000 hospitalized.

The new peak comes as health officials feared a new surge of cases in the wake of the winter holidays. There were a record 3,064 people in state hospitals Monday with COVID-19, according to numbers from the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Dr. Don Williamson, the president of the Alabama Hospital Association, said the surge is likely attributable to the continued fallout from Thanksgiving, the earliest Christmas parties as well as increased community transmission.

He is concerned the caseloads will grow from people who got infected during Christmas gatherings but haven’t started exhibiting serious symptoms.

“If anything, this is the very first part of the Christmas surge, and we still have a lot of the surge to deal with,” Williamson said.

“It’s rapidly deteriorating, and probably will over this week continue to deteriorate pretty rapidly as we do get the Christmas surge,” Williamson said.

Williamson said half of all intensive care beds in the state are occupied by COVID-19 patients. Across the state there were about 500 COVID-19 patients on ventilators, a new high, Williamson said.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital on Sunday reported a record 226 people in the hospital with COVID-19.

Alabama saw a spike in cases in December, with more than 100,000 cases being reported in that month alone. Doctors have expressed concern the situation will get worse before it gets better.

Since the pandemic began, the state health department has reported more than 374,095 confirmed and probable virus cases and at least 4,878 confirmed and probable virus deaths in Alabama.

While the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms in most people, it can be deadly for the elderly and people with other, serious health problems.

State Health Officer Scott Harris in a New Year’s message to the public urged people to continue to take precautions and to take the vaccine when it is available to them. Harris says statements likening COVID-19 mortality to the flu, or that 2020 deaths will be about the same, are “far from the truth.”

He said fewer than 1,300 people in Alabama succumbed to flu and pneumonia combined in 2018, and “COVID-19 has resulted in more than triple the mortality in 2020.”

“Every one of those deaths is someone’s fellow citizen, friend, or family member,” Harris wrote.

The state last month began to distribute the first doses of vaccine to health workers and nursing home residents. Harris said they hope to make the vaccine available to people over 75 and to certain essential workers later this month. The state has not yet announced any details for vaccinating people in those groups.

He said people who do not have elevated risk because of their age and occupation likely will not be able to get the vaccine until spring or summer.

As of Dec. 27, the state had administered 20,354 doses of the 128,175 vaccine doses it had received, according to the state health department.


Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak