Six COVID patients died at Decatur Morgan Hospital over the weekend, deaths that made room for more COVID patients requiring intensive care.
“That’s the way a lot of these patients are going to get out of the ICU,” said Anita Walden, chief nursing officer at the hospital. “That’s unfortunately the only way we’re getting ICU beds right now is through those deaths.”
She said the deaths and the volume of severely ill COVID patients is taking a toll on medical personnel.
“Our staff are exhausted,” Walden said. “Our nurses are saying you barely get time to prepare a person to leave for the funeral home and you’re being pressured to get that bed ready for the next patient, and somehow you’ve got to compartmentalize that piece of you and get ready for a new patient and their family.”
The number of COVID patients has come down at Decatur Morgan over the last two weeks, in part due to the deaths, but the number in intensive care has increased.
On Monday, the hospital had 59 COVID patients. Eighteen of those were in intensive care, including 17 on ventilators. Decatur Morgan has a total of 20 designated ICU beds and also has ICU patients with conditions other than COVID, so two COVID patients — including one on a ventilator — were being kept in the emergency room Monday.
“It has really stressed our resources, staffing in particular,” Walden said.
Most of the hospital’s COVID patients were not vaccinated, she said.
The average age of the hospital’s COVID patients Monday was about 60. They included one patient in his or her 20s, three in their 30s, 10 in their 40s, seven in their 50s, 22 in their 60s, 13 in their 70s and three in their 80s.
The hospital has been administering 30-40 monoclonal antibody infusions per day in recent weeks. Despite a recent cut in Alabama’s allocation of the infusion aimed at keeping COVID-infected or exposed people out of the hospital, Walden said Decatur Morgan recently received a full shipment and has plenty available this week.
“We have seen people that have been very sick with COVID and have come in for their infusion and we believe have had a much lesser case, possibly a shortened case of COVID. We believe it’s very effective,” Walden said. “I think that our numbers would have been a lot greater at the hospital had we not had the infusion available for our residents.”
The infusion requires a prescription from a medical provider and is not available to hospitalized patients, according to Assistant State Health Officer Dr. Karen Landers. People ages 12 and up who have had close contact with a person with COVID qualify for an antibody infusion even without a positive test, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health, if they are at high risk for developing severe COVID-19, are not fully vaccinated or are vaccinated but immunocompromised or on immunosuppressive treatment.
Those who test positive for COVID should receive the antibody within 10 days of their exposure. People testing positive who qualify for the infusion include those with weakened immune systems, people ages 65 and up, and people who are obese, pregnant, diabetic or have various other underlying medical conditions.
Dr. Wes Stubblefield, who until recently practiced as a pediatrician, is the district medical officer for the Northeastern District of the Alabama Department of Public Health. He said children too young to be eligible to receive the vaccine can best be protected by those in contact with them being vaccinated and through masks and social distancing.
“We are seeing a large increase in the number of the 5-11 year old age group, particularly with the delta variant, so it’s very important that we consider this when we think about our vaccine,” he said.
The Pfizer vaccine is available to people ages 12 and up, while Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are only authorized for those 18 and up. Pfizer last week applied to the Food and Drug Administration for authorization for its vaccine to be administered to those between the ages of 5 and 11.
Morgan County has a population of about 123,000. As of Monday, according to ADPH, 45,224 had completed their vaccine series and 53,928 had received one of a two-dose series.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week broadened the eligibility for receiving a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine. No prescription is required and the vaccine is free. Among the newly eligible are people who had their second dose of Pfizer at least six months before and meet one of the following requirements:
• Ages 65 and older.
• Residents in long-term care settings.
• Ages 18-64 with underlying medical conditions.
• Ages 18-64 who are at an increased risk of COVID exposure due to their occupation or institutional setting, including teachers, day care staff, grocery workers, health care workers and people in homeless shelters or prisons.
The CDC previously recommended a third shot of Pfizer or Moderna for those with compromised immune systems.
“These vaccines are effective, they’re available and they work,” Stubblefield said. “They prevent death.”
Walden and Stubblefield both urged people to get a flu vaccine as well.
“One thing that we particularly worry about is the combination of flu and coronavirus together. That can make people very, very sick,” Stubblefield said.