Morgan County, home of Decatur, has a 47 percent positive test rate
By Alabama Associated Press
At least half the people who were tested for COVID-19 over the past two weeks in three north Alabama counties have tested positive, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.
That’s far higher than the statewide rate, serving as another grim development as cases continue to increase in north Alabama.
Michael Glenn, an assistant district administrator for ADPH who works in 12 north Alabama counties, said that Marshall County had the highest percent positive test rate of those counties at 54 percent.
Neighboring Jackson County, in northeast Alabama, is at 51 percent while Marion County, bordering the Mississippi State line, is at 50 percent.
“The virus is rampant in our communities,” Glenn said at a news conference in Decatur on Monday. “We’re in a very serious position.”
Kathy Woodruff, chief nursing officer for Marshall Medical Center in Boaz and Guntersville, said there is a direction correlation between the percent positive and the number of patients needing hospitalization. The Marshall County hospitals have a combined 55 inpatients on Monday – the most yet since the virus was first identified in Alabama in March.
“During this entire pandemic, whatever the percent rate is, the higher it is, the more inpatient volume we have,” Woodruff said Monday. “It matches just perfect. Unfortunately, when those rates go up, our inpatient volume goes up. People are sicker and need to be in the hospital. It’s overwhelming.”
And while those three counties have the highest rate of positive tests, the problem isn’t limited to those areas. Morgan County, home of Decatur, has a 47 percent positive test rate, Glenn said, and two other counties are also above 40 percent.
“It’s a north Alabama issue right now,” Glenn said. “This virus doesn’t see county lines.”
For comparison, the statewide positive rate over the past two weeks is 32 percent. Over the past week, however, the number is starting to climb at almost 34 percent testing positive statewide.
Hospitals adding beds, seeking more nurses
Hospitalizations throughout north Alabama jumped dramatically over the weekend. In the Huntsville Hospital Healthcare System – which includes Marshall Medical Centers as well as Decatur Morgan Hospital – 378 people are hospitalized Monday. That’s an increase from 335 patients on Friday.
Both the Marshall County hospitals and Decatur hospital have activated surge plans to add more beds for intensive care patients. Marshall has eliminated all elective surgeries, creating 11 new beds, and Decatur has added six new beds to accommodate the 25 patients in its 19-bed ICU.
Decatur Morgan Hospital President Kelli Powers also said that the hospital had borrowed two ventilators from Sheffield’s Helen Keller Hospital – another Huntsville Hospital Healthcare facility.
Both Powers and Woodruff said additional space for ICU beds will be in the outpatient recovery rooms and those healthcare workers would shift from their normal duties caring for elective surgery patients to the ICU patients.
“Our patients are coming from everywhere,” Woodruff said. “There is no single source. They range in age from their 30s to 80s. I think most of it is from the community spread that we’re having with this virus. We see a lot of families. It’s not just localized to one area, unfortunately.
The situation hospitals are now facing was unimaginable when the pandemic began, Woodruff said.
“If you would have asked me back in March can you take care of 55 COVID patients, I would have said no way,” she said.
Last week, Marshall Medical Centers put out a call for ICU nurses, describing it as a “critical need.” On Monday, Powers also asked for help.
“If there are any retired nurses or retired physicians who want to come back and help, we would love to do that and we would work with you if you can only work a few hours, just to give someone a break,” she said. “It is really stressful right now.”
Hospital officials are also bracing for an expected post-Thanksgiving surge in patients and potentially a post-Christmas surge as well.
“I dread the next couple of weeks because I can’t imagine how we’re going to handle this,” Woodruff said. “Our most valuable resource is our employees and they are working very, very hard. Some of them are sick. Our staff numbers are limited. It’s a challenge for us. We’ll make it through somehow because we always do but it’s very concerning to me because our numbers (of patients) were already very, very high before Thanksgiving and people got together.”