“Mask up, Decatur:” Officials say the finish line is in sight, but still a long way to go before the pandemic is over

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DECATUR, Ala. – There was good and bad news at the Decatur-Morgan County COVID-19 briefing Monday.

Judy Smith from the Alabama Department of Public Health said the state is on track to cross 300,000 total COVID-19 cases sometime in the next day or two and more than 50% of COVID-19 tests in Morgan County over the last week have come back positive.

Decatur Morgan Hospital President Kelli Powers added that the hospital continues to be stretched thin – both in bed space and staffing.

86 inpatients have tested positive for coronavirus, with 17 in the ICU. 16 of those in the ICU were on ventilators.

Unfortunately, those numbers are down due to deaths – Powers said there were as many as 31 in ICU at one time over the last week.

Powers expects more deaths before the end of a surge, and said a DMH physician passed along a message: “The people you saw at thanksgiving, you might not see at Christmas.”

The good news – Powers said three nurses have come out of retirement to help alleviate thin staffing at the hospital; and added additional retired professionals are still welcome to come back and help.

Smith and Powers also discussed early plans for the vaccine.

Initial doses will go to medical professionals, first responders, and those in long-term care facilties.

Smith cited statistics showing those in long-term care account for six percent of COVID-19 cases, but 40% of COVID-19 deaths.

Smith said plans are in place to include rural communities, along with both appointments and first-come, first-serve vaccinations.

The biggest concern of mass vaccination once the vaccine rolls out to the general population is the way it’s shipped – both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are shipped in five-dose vials. Smith said the last thing ADPH wants to have happen is a whole vial is thawed out and only three people show up.

Initial doses are heading to Huntsville Hospital and its affiliates in Athens and Cullman – Powers said possibly 300 doses from the initial shipment are expected to be shared with Decatur, going to staff at the hospital.

Powers, Smith, and Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling emphasized the need to continue distancing, masking, and sanitizing over the next few months.

“Wishing doesn’t get us anywhere – masking, social distancing, sanitizing does,” Bowling said.

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