Even though the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Mobile area has continued to grow, public health officials say that the availability of critical resources like hospital beds and ventilators remains high.
Dr. Laura Cepeda, Medical Director at the Mobile County Health Department, said Thursday that of the 56 confirmed cases in the area, only 12 have led to known hospitalizations and across the city’s four hospital systems, beds and intensive care units are only at about 40 percent of their full capacity.
As for ventilators, which are critical for helping patients with severe respiratory complications from COVID-19 breathe, only about half of what the city currently has available are in use, according to Cepeda.
“That’s good,” she said. “We want to make sure we’re keeping those available for the sickest patients.”
As Lagniappe has reported, state and local public health officials, as well as all but one local hospital have declined to publicly release the exact number of ventilators and ICU beds in use at any given time across the entire hospital referral area, or within their individual facilities.
However, Dr. Brian H. Sumrall of Pulmonary Associates of Mobile, told reporters Wednesday that “hospitals remain ready” for an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations that’s expected later in April.
“We’re fortunate not to be in a situation like New Orleans, New York or any of those cities thus far and I pray we never get to anything like that,” Sumrall said. “[If the projected models] hold true, we should probably start seeing an uptick in cases in hospitals over the next few weeks. We’ve seen a slight uptick already, but nothing we’re not prepared for.”
Speaking alongside Mayor Sandy Stimpson, Sumrall commended the city of Mobile for its efforts to encourage and practice social distancing to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
He said those habits need to continue as the area moves into the later part of April, which is when most national models have projected the rate of cases in Alabama to crest.
According to Sumrall, social distancing and staying home are extremely important even for those who don’t feel sick. He said recent studies have indicated anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of people who contract COVID-19 never have a single symptom but are still able to spread it to others.
“I would encourage you, as best you can, to enjoy being with your families during this time and try to make the best of it,” Sumrall said. “Know that the hospitals; we are there for you, and if you have a loved one who is being treated in one of our facilities, we are giving them the best care that we can.”
Cepeda also indicated the rate of new infections being identified could be slowing nationally and locally.
Across the United States, the number of confirmed cases has been doubling every two days — and roughly the same has been true for Alabama and Mobile County. However, Cepeda said that doubling time nationally has recently increased to 4.2 days and similar trends had been seen locally.
She was cautiously optimistic about the slowdown but said it could indicate the social distancing efforts enacted around the country are working.
“That means we need to keep handwashing, keep doing social distancing and continue our efforts to flatten the curve,” she said. “We need to continue making sure that our first responders and healthcare workers stay healthy and our hospitals are available for those people who do get very sick.”
Earlier today, MCHD also released the first of what are planned to be daily updates with information about the number and severity of COVID-19 cases and some basic demographic information about patients.
At this point, MCHD is still not able to disclose how many patients with previously confirmed cases have since recovered from the disease. Other countries and states have released that kind of information but Alabama has only just started collecting that type of data from patients.
The Alabama Department of Public Health only started following up with COVID patients to collect outcomes earlier this week.
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