One additional COVID-19 death was reported for both Morgan and Limestone counties on Monday, bringing the two-county death toll in the last week to eight, as hospital officials worried that delayed test results and drug shortages would hinder their fight against the disease. 

Thirteen Morgan County residents and 10 Limestone residents have died from COVID-19 since testing began, according to ADPH data. The number of deaths statewide reached 1,446 on Monday. No deaths have been reported in Lawrence County.

The number of patients with COVID-19 across the Huntsville Hospital Health System was 219 on Monday, up by one compared to the previous Monday, according to CEO David Spillers, including 25 patients at Decatur Morgan Hospital and 14 at Athens-Limestone Hospital. There were no COVID-19 patients at Lawrence Medical Center in Moulton, according to Spillers.

“I do expect some (of the 219 patients) to get discharged today,” particularly those in Madison County, Spillers said at a briefing Monday at Huntsville City Hall.

Spillers said the availability of lab testing supplies and remdesivir, the go-to drug for those critically ill from COVID-19, is a concern for hospital officials.

“We continue to have no issues getting (personal protective equipment) for our staff, our employees and physicians and others,” Spillers said. “However I will tell you, lab testing supplies continue to be an issue. Our main vendor cut back our allocation this week by 600 tests, so we’re going to have 600 less in-house tests this week than we had last week.”

Spillers said the rapid-result tests are used on hospital employees and physicians and patients. “We need that in-house testing, we need that quick turn-around testing,” he said. “We hope to get that shipment back up next week, but they’re running into nationwide shortages.”

Initially obtained from the Alabama Department of Public Health, the drug remdesivir is now supplied by a vendor.

“Last week, there were some glitches in the distribution of the drug,” Spillers said. “We ultimately got our shipments of remdesivir, but continue to be concerned about whether we’ll be able to get those (shipments) long term, particularly if our number of inpatients continues to go up.”

Meanwhile, Limestone, Lawrence and Morgan counties, on Friday, were designated in the “high risk” category under ADPH guidelines, being moved from their previous "very high risk" category.

But Judy Smith, administrator of the Alabama Department of Public Health Northern District, cautioned that the information on the ADPH risk-category map is “previous data. They report on Fridays what was happening from the previous Saturday back,” she said Monday at a briefing at Decatur City Hall. “So, to some extent, that is older data.”

The number of confirmed cases increased by 40 to a total of 1,973 in Morgan County on Monday; and by 25 to a total of 1,031 in Limestone County, ADPH data shows. In Lawrence County, the number of confirmed cases was 254 on Monday, up by 10.

During the briefing, Decatur Morgan Hospital President Kelli Powers said the facility still has available beds.

“We have capacity for patients,” she said. “Our ERs are open, ready to see patients.”

Powers said seven of the COVID-19 inpatients are in the intensive care unit with three on ventilators, and 11 are “positive under investigation, meaning we think they have COVID but we haven’t gotten their test results back.”

Between Decatur’s main and Parkway locations, there are 200 inpatient beds, and 128 of those are now filled, but those are not all COVID patients, Powers said. “We have 27 ICU beds, and 18 of those are currently filled, with nine available.”

At the hospital’s fever and flu clinic, “there has been a delay in getting results back,” Powers said, adding that “it’s the labs that are still somewhat behind.”

The number of confirmed cases statewide reached 79,129 on Monday, the ADPH reported, up 1,778 from the previous day.

“We will have a vaccine,” Smith said. “We are going to have a vaccine. The trials are going great; the trials look good.”

But, while waiting for a vaccine to be available, “I’m still going to tell you, wear those masks and stay away from each other,” she said.

Smith said public health officials still face a challenge in getting the message across that this is a serious illness.

“There are a lot of people that still think this is a hoax,” Smith said. Cumulatively, nearly 10,000 people statewide have been hospitalized with the disease, representing 12% of the number of total cases, she said. “It’s not a hoax to them,” she said.

Smith also advised people to get flu vaccinations and school immunizations.

“When folks go back to school, we don’t need flu on top of COVID, but we also don’t need measles, mumps and whooping cough, which we still have, on top of COVID,” Smith said.

Smith commended the efforts of school officials in trying to make a safe environment for returning students and teachers and provide options for families.

“If my child, my grandchild needed to go (to school) — knowing what I know about the effort the schools have put into this — I’m not so sure we’re not safer in the schools than we are in most of the other places we go,” she said.

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