MARSHALL COUNTY, Ala. (WAFF) - From being the first hotspot to now being the only county in North Alabama labeled extremely high risk for the spread of COVID-19, it seems like Marshall County has always gotten the worst of the virus in the Tennessee Valley.
But, for the past few weeks and months, Kathy Woodruff, the Chief Nursing Officer at Marshall Medical Centers, said the hospitalization numbers have been manageable.
That was, though, until this weekend, when COVID-19 inpatient numbers between the two hospitals nearly doubled.
“We’re almost back to where we were in July, which is a little concerning," Woofruff said.
On Friday, MMC had 16 inpatients with COVID-19 in the system, five at MMC North and 11 at MMC South. Now, there are 30 inpatients between the two hospitals, with 6 at MMC North and 24 at MMC South. Woodruff said 24 is the most inpatients they’ve ever had at one of the hospitals at once.
“Since the beginning of November, it’s just slowly crept up and then over the weekend it was just an explosion,” she said.
Taking a look at the numbers, the 7-day average of new cases per day in Marshall County has more than doubled in the last month. On Oct. 10 it was an average of 16 cases a day, now that average is 38 cases each day.
Woodruff said this climb over the last month is what’s now leading to these hospitalizations, since the number of patients hospitalized tends to lag a week or two behind when people are first diagnosed.
On top of that, this is not just more testing leading to more cases. The 14-day average of the percent of COVID-19 tests to come back positive is a little more than 29% right now, a month ago it was at 17%.
Woodruff said the spike is being caused by community and family spread.
“It’s all walks of life, it’s all ages," she said. "It’s everywhere and there are a lot of families that are contracting it and they spread it to each other. I think sometimes we get too comfortable being around each other and it’s been a long time, so we think, ‘Oh, let’s get together, aunts and uncles, grandmas, whoever, and come see each other,’ and then one person has it who doesn’t know they have it and then you end up infecting the whole family.”
Woodruff said this is especially concerning as we approach the holidays and Winter, which is typically a harder time for hospitals.
“During the winter time our normal volume increases because we have patients with pneumonia, congestive heart failure, COPD,” Woodruff said. “Winter time is a difficult time for that group of patients, so if you have that on top of this it does get concerning.”
Like health professionals across the country, Woodruff is worried indoor holiday gatherings could lead to another spike in cases.
“I hope people will still follow the 6 feet, wear your masks and avoid those family gatherings," she said. "I hate to say that, you know. Thanksgiving, Christmas, all that is coming up, but if we’re not careful and vigilant and continue to do the things we know we should do then it may end up getting worse.”
Woodruff said she thinks people are getting tired of the mask order and other precautions that we saw working to fight the virus at the end of the Summer, but she urges people to keep using these safety measures, especially around family.
“We do have a lot of patients in the hospital that are related or they’ll come to the hospital and say, “Ya, my whole family has had it,' and maybe they’re the unfortunate one who couldn’t take care of themselves at home and had to be admitted for supplemental oxygen,” Woodruff said.
She said people need to keep a close eye on any symptoms they might have, because this virus has so many possible symptoms.
“In the very beginning, if you have a cough and a fever that’s the symptoms," she said. "Now it’s everything, it’s headache, loss of taste and smell, congestion, coughing, very few people even have a fever anymore. We have a lot of people with abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting and that’s the only symptom they have.”
Woodruff said if you have any symptoms, you need to stay at home and stay away from people. You never know if your mild cough or other seemingly meaningless symptom could be COVID-19.
Looking toward the future and a possible second wave of COVID-19, Woodruff said they are good on PPE and her team knows what they’re up against, unlike at the beginning of this pandemic.
“We feel much more prepared, we’ve been through this, we realize what is ahead of us, it’s challenging but we’re more prepared than we were back in the summer," Woodruff said.
Most importantly, she said her team of doctors and nurses is staying motivated and upbeat, despite still fighting the virus eight months after it first showed up in the Tennessee Valley.
“The staff has just grown accustomed to this, it’s just something that we deal with everyday like we do strokes and heart attacks and all the different things we deal with on a daily basis," she said.
Possibly the most promising news during the pandemic so far is the announcement by Pfizer that early trials of their vaccine are proving to be 90% effective.
“That’s great, that’s encouraging," Woodruff said.
She said she’s looking forward to when the doctors and nurses at MMC can get back to treating what they usually do, without the added issues of COVID-19.