Flu, COVID cases on rise after holidays

Published 11:30 am Tuesday, January 3, 2023

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As people have gathered to celebrate the holidays, East Alabama Medical Center has seen an increase in flu and COVID-19 hospitalizations, and the cases are expected to continue growing over the next few weeks.

The COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased from an average of eight to ten in mid to late November to over 20 the week of Dec. 30. Flu admissions were as high as 10 earlier in the month. The current average is approximately two to three cases.

“We’ve started to see an increase starting in mid to late November, but over the last couple of weeks, we are continuing to see that number increase,” said Brooke Bailey, Director of Infection Prevention and Employee Health for East Alabama Health. 

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According to Bailey, as of Dec. 30, there were 21 patients admitted into the Opelika hospital with positive COVID-19 and zero in the Lanier hospital. There are also a couple of flu patients at each location as well. However, the numbers are always changing and have been growing over the past several weeks.

Bailey said that the influx of flu and COVID-19 cases during the holiday season was expected. The increase will likely continue to grow over the coming weeks as people continue to gather for the holidays.

“We are still experiencing those winter months, and people are still traveling and being with family,” Bailey said. “So we probably are going to expect even more of an increase in the next couple of weeks.”

However, Bailey said that overall there are not as many patients requiring intensive care or ventilators this year as compared with last December, January and February.

The Alabama Department of Public Health releases weekly community transmission rates.

“Almost every county in the state of Alabama is showing high community transmission for COVID,” Bailey said.

Data reported to the Alabama Department of Public Health as of Dec. 18 showed 5.01% of influenza-like illnesses in the East Central district, where Chambers County is located, during the week ending on Dec. 24. 

This percentage has steadily increased in the weeks leading up to Christmas. From the week of Dec. 10 to Dec. 17, the percentage of influenza-like illnesses went from 4.23% to 4.74%. According to the data, the district had significant influenza activity as of the week of Dec. 24.

As for COVID-19 cases, the Alabama Public Health reported a total of 3,981 deaths in 2022 as of Dec. 28. In the last seven days, the APH has reported a total of 4,269 positive NAAT tests out of 29,429. In Chambers County, there have been 22 COVID-19 deaths and 3,919 cases in 2022. According to the APH, six out of 446 tests have been positive in the last seven days.

“There are so many at-home tests now that that data does not even reflect how many patients are testing positive at home and not seeking confirmation testing by a healthcare provider,” Bailey said. “So you can only assume that those numbers are even higher.”

Bailey recommended that people who are sick stay home and monitor their symptoms. She encouraged those who don’t need immediate care to visit primary care, urgent care or at-home tests to alleviate the burden on overcrowded hospitals. Many who visit the ER already experience long wait times due to the time of year.

“This time of year, we tend to see higher admissions regardless, and our health system is not alone in regard to bed availability and overcrowding in the ERs,” Bailey said.

Bailey said overcrowding is not unique to the EAMC health system. Many hospitals have been experiencing additional burdens with the outbreak of flu and RSV in children. 

Bailey also reminded the community that vaccinations can help reduce the severity of symptoms and the risk of hospitalization for flu and COVID-19.

“Vaccination is still important. Flu vaccines are still there. Flu vaccines decrease the severity of the illness and hopefully will prevent or significantly decrease the risk of hospitalization,” Bailey said. “And the same goes with COVID.”

Bailey said the new COVID-19 vaccine that protects against the Omicron variant is available to anyone.