The number of COVID-19 patients is dropping quickly in many north Alabama hospitals but not at Decatur Morgan Hospital, a fact that concerns a pulmonologist there.
"Our sister hospitals had a delay before their numbers started to climb, but they have peaked and have started dropping their numbers faster than Decatur Morgan, and I'm not exactly sure why that is," said Dr. James Boyle, medical director of the intensive care and critical care units at Decatur Morgan Hospital.
As of Friday, Decatur Morgan Hospital had 34 confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients, including eight in intensive care and five on ventilators.
By Monday afternoon, the hospital had 42 confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients, including seven in intensive care and four on ventilators.
"That doesn't include one patient that's been on a ventilator for almost three months that doesn't test positive anymore for coronavirus, but that's a very sad case," Boyle said.
He said several patients over the course of the pandemic have successfully transitioned off ventilators.
"Many are extremely weak," he said. "For people who have a very rough course and come off, they can be so weak they can't lift their hands. Then they go through a tremendous amount of rehab and things. But ... we have had many successes to date."
Boyle, speaking Monday at a city of Decatur news conference, said one Morgan County resident has died for every 123 cases during the course of the pandemic, compared to one death for every 59 cases statewide.
He said he "probably celebrated out loud" on a day early last week when the Alabama Department of Public Health reported only five new cases among Morgan County residents, but that's a number that has slowly increased. The seven-day average of new cases per day in the county as of Sept. 8 was 10.86, the lowest since June 4. Eighteen new cases Sunday and 14 on Monday, however, pulled the seven-day average up to 13.14.
"We can't let our guard down," Boyle said. "We have to continue to remain vigilant. I know this is fatiguing. We all want this to go away."
He expressed concern about the overlap between the COVID-19 pandemic and flu season.
"We currently have adequate rooms and staffing to take care of additional patients in this county, but I can tell you that this hospital and many hospitals across this country will fill to capacity if we have a coronavirus surge in the middle of an influenza spike," Boyle said. "It's up to the citizens of this county to prevent this."
He reiterated the precautions urged by public health officials.
"I beg you, please do the following: Wear your mask. There's no question in my mind that masks save lives. It may be your life. It may be a loved one's life. It may be a stranger's life. It may be a health care worker's life.
"Please separate and sanitize. We all need to do it. Please quarantine if you become ill. If you came back from Sturgis, please quarantine," Boyle said, referring to a massive South Dakota motorcycle rally that many have blamed for a sharp uptick in cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the Dakotas.
He also stressed the importance of getting a flu vaccine, and of getting a coronavirus vaccine when it is available.
Michael Douglas, superintendent of Decatur City Schools, also spoke at the news conference.
Douglas said that the system is not releasing data on cumulative coronavirus cases among students and staff, just "active cases." As of Friday, he said, DCS had five students that had tested positive for COVID-19: One each at Austin Middle, Austin Junior, Austin High, Ben Davis Magnet and Decatur High.
He said 151 DCS students are currently in quarantine.
"I realize that's probably been the most frustrating, but if you've had a relative at home that tested positive or if you're in that 6-foot window for more than 15 minutes with a student that tested positive, really for the safety of everyone, we really have to follow that quarantine protocol," Douglas said.
"Our parents have done that, but it's been very frustrating for our parents. But that's what's allowed us to keep the doors open. I think the reason we've had few cases of students is because of the quarantining that we've done."
He said two staff members have tested positive. One is in transportation and one is at Walter Jackson Elementary.
Thirty-four staff members are in quarantine, he said.