The number of people seeking COVID-19 tests in Morgan County is way down, a fact that health officials attribute primarily to fewer people being sick because of the rollout of vaccines and people following strict health protocols after a deadly holiday season.
On Tuesday, the Alabama Department of Public Health reported Morgan County clinics administered 56 COVID-19 tests and they had averaged 76 per day over the previous week. The decline has been steep. The peak in daily testing was Dec. 14, when 728 tests were administered and the average tests per day for the week was 328.
By the week of Jan. 12 the average number of people being tested per day had dropped to 129, and by Feb. 19 the average had fallen to 65.
“There’s certainly evidence that we’re making progress,” said Judy Smith, administrator of the Alabama Department of Public Health Northern District. “Testing is still available, but since the number of people wanting tests is down and our numbers of new cases are declining, we see it as progress.”
An average of 24 Morgan County residents per day have tested positive in the last week, up from the previous week but far below the pandemic peak of 146 per day just before Christmas.
Smith said testing remains available by appointment at the Morgan County Health Department and from several other providers locally.
She said people took notice when the media reported on hospitals overflowing with COVID-19 patients in late 2020 and local deaths spiking in January.
“In December, we had a line of people wrapped around the building to get tested,” she said. “Now people are doing the right things. More and more people got better at social distancing and masking because of what they were hearing and seeing.
"Now that we’ve gotten past the holiday season there is not the congregant socializing the holidays always bring. We need to keep it that way. The vaccines are arriving and being distributed.”
Noel Lovelace, vice president of development at Decatur Morgan Hospital, said the drop in positive test results has been drastic at the hospital sites, too.
“We have definitely seen a decline in requests for COVID testing at our drive-up clinic at the Parkway campus during the past two months,” she said. “Of those we are testing, we are getting fewer positive results.”
She said that on Jan. 5, 129 people were tested and the clinic received 53 positive test results the same day.
“On Tuesday, we tested eight and received one test positive,” she said.
Decatur Morgan Hospital had 11 COVID-19 inpatients Wednesday, far below its peak of about 100.
Lovelace said the hospital is busy with other patients.
“We have returned to a full surgery schedule, have a new surgical robot that we are excited about, and we are hard at work rescheduling those who had to delay elective surgeries due to high volumes of COVID patients," she said.
"Fortunately, as the numbers in the COVID testing clinic have declined, the number of people coming to our vaccine clinic continues to increase, and we are able to shift staff resources to the vaccine clinic and that's been a very good thing.”
Smith said the Morgan County Health Department is also moving staff members where needed, some returning to their pre-COVID positions.
“We’ve converted our staff who were testing to administering the vaccine now,” she said. "Some we hired full time, some were temporary workers. We had tremendous response and support from volunteers. They are people who showed they care about their community.”
Vaccine waiting list
Lovelace said as of Wednesday afternoon, the hospital’s clinic had administered 7,711 vaccine doses, and about 4,000 more people are scheduled for inoculations or on a waiting list to be scheduled.
“New people sign up on our website every day. We are scheduling as fast as we can. It is by appointment only,” she said. “We are also working with some larger employers in the area to vaccinate their staffs on site at their plants or places of business. We anticipate being able to vaccinate another 9,000 or so there.”
Smith said the future gets brighter for those who have been fully vaccinated and then wait the recommended two weeks for maximum immunity.
“This is wonderful now. People are able to hug their grandchildren again,” she said.
Ray Long, Morgan County Commission chairman, said he has seen the decline in COVID-19 cases among county employees.
“We’ve had no case in the courthouse in several weeks,” he said. “People are being careful because they know shots are around the corner.”