Hospital officials say health care system still impacted by COVID-19 even as cases go down

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – While the number of new COVID-19 cases and inpatients are decreasing, health officials, say the pandemic is still straining hospitals.

That message was stressed Wednesday during the weekly Huntsville area COVID-19 briefing.

Health leaders say they are pleased to see a significant drop in cases. There are currently 95 inpatients at Huntsville Hospital locations in Madison County. CEO Jeff Samz says this marks a 50 percent drop in the past month, but Samz also said the hospital has recorded 13 deaths in the past three days.

Samz says the average age of COVID inpatients is 59 and there are six children being treated in the hospital for COVID-19.

The pandemic is still putting pressure on the health care system. Samz says inpatient elective surgeries are being conducted at the hospital, but they are still limited. Most days ICU beds are still fully occupied.

“The emergency department continues to have to hold admissions that at times cause delays to being seen in the emergency department or delays for EMS as they’re waiting to unload patients due to the high occupancy in the emergency department. So, we’re delighted to see the decline but there is still significant stress on the system.” Samz said.

Huntsville Hospital is reporting that 82 percent of those who are currently hospitalized with the coronavirus are unvaccinated.

It’s a message that’s been repeated before, but health officials say it hasn’t lost its importance.

“It is a safe vaccine. It is extremely effective,” said Dr. Roger Smalligan, UAB Huntsville Campus Dean.

Dr. Smalligan discussed the patients who ended up being hospitalized with a breakthrough case of COVID.

“They tend to be people who have a lot of underlying medical conditions,” Dr. Smalligan said. “You can imagine one more insult of even a milder breakthrough case of COVID could be very significant for them.”
Those patients are often dealing with more than one health condition.

“Immunocompromised, people with chronic kidney disease, chronic severe lung disease, which could be COPD could be severe asthma, it could be people with uncontrolled diabetes,” Dr. Smalligan stated.

Doctor Smalligan admitted he was hesitant to get the vaccine until he examined data from a Pfizer study before it was approved by the FDA. He told reporters he got his first dose as soon as he could.

“I tell people, I haven’t taken care of one patient in the hospital throughout this pandemic due to a serious complication to the vaccine. Zero. But I have taken care of many, many, many patients who are deathly ill due to the disease itself. Due to covid, which we can prevent,” Dr. Smalligan explained.

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