HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – For the first time in months, Huntsville area officials held a COVID-19 briefing to provide the community with information as cases surge due to the Delta variant.
Medical professionals, still recovering from the past year’s battle with COVID-19, say the rise in new cases is creating a sense of dread.
Their message was very simple. Get vaccinated. To get that point across they shared some staggering statistics at the briefing.
They say we’re dealing with a variant that is far more contagious than what has spread through the community before.
“The Delta variant is incredibly contagious. It produces 1,000 times more viral particles. I think that the number I saw today is a single person with the delta variant as the predominant strain is going to infect eight people and you can catch it in a minute of close contact,” said Jeff Samz, Huntsville Hospital CEO.
Samz says the majority of current COVID-19 inpatients have not received the vaccine. There are 121 COVID-19 patients at Huntsville Hospital, 29 are in the ICU, and 15 are on ventilators.
“Ninety-one percent are unvaccinated. So, you do the simple math there and we’d have about ten patients in the hospital if everybody had taken their vaccine,” Samz said.
Samz also shared the average age of COVID-19 inpatients is younger than it was previously. It is now 58.
“We have twelve in-patients who are under age forty. We have thirty-one people in their fifties,” Samz explained. “It’s a different demographic I think due in large part to the high vaccination rate among people who are sixty-five and older.”
Unfortunately, some patients are much younger than that. There are 3 children being treated for COVID-19 in Huntsville Hospital. One of them is a baby.
Samz says there were five deaths this week at the hospital. One of those was a person under 50, with no comorbidities, who was unvaccinated.
“I just highlight that to emphasize how important it is for everyone to go out and get your vaccine before you become one of those people,” Samz said.
Alabama remains among the states with the lowest vaccination rate in the country. Only 43 percent of Madison County residents are fully vaccinated. Madison County Medical Society President Dr. Aruna Arora says they are seeing seriously ill patients reconsidering getting vaccinated when they already have the virus.
“Some of the hospitalists have mentioned patients begging them to give them their vaccine when they’re about to get intubated but it’s too late and the burden that they share when they have to tell their patients that it is too late is one that nobody wants to have,” Dr. Arora said.
Arora says one of the most difficult parts of last year was being there for dying patients when their families were not allowed to visit. On top of that, they were dealing with staffing shortages.
She says many doctors and nurses felt extreme empathy when the pandemic began, but now there is a sense of frustration because there is a way to prevent being infected. Medical professionals say they want to reverse the surge in cases and the way they say to do that is to get vaccinated.
On top of getting vaccinated, Jeff Samz recommended people follow CDC guidance for masking, stating people should wear a mask when inside indoor public areas. He said this is particularly important when people do not know the vaccination status of others.
Arora also addressed the surge in cases as students head back to school, again saying that following CDC guidance is a good idea.
“The schools that have put masks in place for school, I think they’re in good shape. You know, they’re doing all the mitigating measures that we know. They’re following the guidance. And so those schools aren’t the ones we’re as concerned about. So, the communities where there are no mitigative measures in place are the ones we are more worried about.”
When it came to whether or not there should be a mask mandate, both Samz and Dr. Arora said people should continue following CDC guidance when it comes to masking but did not push a mandate.
“There’s no question that masks can prevent you from getting COVID. And we support the CDC recommendations to wear a mask indoors. I don’t think it’s productive to get hung up on a debate about required versus recommended,” Samz said.