COVID-19 case numbers promising, but hospitals still feeling the strain, officials say

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Madison County had the lowest number of COVID-19 cases the previous day than any since the first of July, but officials warned that the cases that still exist are taking a toll on healthcare workers in the region.

Madison County had 40 new cases of COVID-19 the day before, which officials said is the lowest since July 1. The Huntsville Hospital Health System had 202 patients system-wide, and 66 were in intensive care. Spillers said that may seem like a small number when Madison County has roughly 350,000 people, but those cases require much more staffing and equipment.

“Those 200 patients are really sick and they’re requiring a substantial amount of resources, staff time, physician time, and they are having a negative impact on our healthcare system and the delivery of healthcare to other people,” Spillers said.

The side effects of having those cases include elective surgeries being delayed and at times, shortages of beds for patients who need them, Spillers said. He noted that there were two open ICU beds around midday Tuesday at Huntsville Hospital, and four patients in the emergency room who needed them.

Also, Spillers said more than 600 nurses have taken extra shifts to deal with staffing shortages.

“Our nurses are tired,” he said. “It’s getting harder to try and get nurses to take extra shifts, because this has been going on a long time.”

The hospital expects to hire about 100 nurses later this summer as a normal part of the hiring process, Spillers said, and they are working on plans to hire more registered and licensed practical nurses with incentives such as signing bonuses and helping repay student loans.

Despite the toll on the healthcare system, Spillers said there are other positive signs in addition to the decrease in positive cases. Demand for testing has gone down, he said, and the Huntsville Hospital Health System has discharged more than 1,000 COVID-19 patients during the pandemic.

But Spillers said although things are moving in the right direction, people can’t be complacent and behave in a way that pushes the numbers back up, especially as school resumes and the Labor Day holiday approaches.

“We don’t need to get the numbers back down to a manageable number and then Labor Day come around, and then everybody do what they did on Fourth of July, and then they just pop up again,” he said.

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