DECATUR, Ala. (WHNT) — City of Decatur leaders held a briefing on Wednesday to provide an update on COVID-19 in the community.

Mayor Tab Bowling was joined by representatives from Decatur Morgan Hospital and a representative from the Alabama Department of Public Health.

“Unfortunately, cases have significantly increased in our area,” Mayor Bowling began the meeting saying they had hoped the COVID briefings would no longer be necessary, but with the recent surge in cases and hospital staffing at a critical stage, that wouldn’t be the case.

Morgan County currently has 28,850 total cases, with 48.7% positive tests in the last seven days, or 2,024 people in the county.

Bowling said approximately 52,121 residents are fully vaccinated.

Decatur Morgan Hospital currently has 68 COVID patients, 10 of those are in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and five are on ventilators, with “many more” on a BiPAP ventilation machine. The average of positive patients is 65.

Anita Walden, Chief Nursing Officer with Decatur Morgan Hospital reported 96 hospital employees are quarantining, leaving those working to fill in roles they might not normally work.

“Our staffing levels are critical,” said Walden. “That is across the board. We are piecing together, literally, our staff.”

She also addressed rumors that the omicron variant is less severe than earlier variants, but she said, “For some people, it really is bad.”

For those that want to get tested, she urged them to utilize drive-thru clinics, stating the hospital is reserved for patients and employees. “Please, if you’re not sick – if you’re just exposed, and you want to know if you have it or not, please go to the drive-thru.”

Drive-thru testing sites in Morgan County are open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. but will extend those hours next week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Judy Smith with the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) says right now, the health system is just overwhelmed with testing. She also said both the ADPH and Decatur Morgan Hospital are wiped out of rapid tests, but referenced the recent access to at-home tests that became available for free.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Smith says Alabama has seen 16,734 deaths, with 300 deaths in January alone.

Smith reminded residents, “Vaccines are still the answer.”

For more information on what to do if you test positive for COVID, to check your symptoms or to find vaccine clinics near you, click here.