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Area hospitals see younger COVID patients in ICU


Kelli Powers, Special to the Enquirer

By Wes Tomlinson

For the Enquirer

Decatur Morgan Hospital’s 16 COVID patients in the ICU Oct. 4 – all on ventilators – had an average age of 56. None had been vaccinated, according to the hospital’s president.

It’s a continuation of the trend seen statewide, according to official health data. The latest surge of COVID-19 cases over the past month has more younger people dealing with severe illness.

Athens-Limestone had six COVID patients in intensive care Oct. 4, including three on ventilators, and it is also reporting seeing younger patients.

Decatur Morgan Hospital had 51 COVID patients Oct. 4 plus one patient presumed to be infected.

“We have several patients waiting on ICU beds,” said Decatur Morgan Hospital President Kelli Powers. “We have no ICU beds, and we have not had any for a while.”

Powers said she is concerned about the lack of ICU beds when there are people seeking help from the hospital with non-COVID issues.

“We still have people walking in with heart attacks, strokes, other various things they need to be in ICU for,” Powers said, “but we don’t have any beds for them.”

Judy Smith, administrator of the Northern District of the Alabama Department of Public Health, said she attributes the low average age of COVID patients in the ICU to lower vaccination rates in age groups below 65.

“It’s been a slow crawl to get additional vaccines for people,” Smith said. “Morgan County’s vaccination rate currently is under 39 percent of eligible people.”

Smith said the vaccination rate among Morgan County residents has increased slightly during the recent wave of COVID.

“It needs to be better,” Smith said.

At Athens-Limestone Hospital, nurse manager Donna Abernathy said several COVID patients were younger than 65.

“We’ve got some 50-year-olds, we’ve got a 40- and 47-year-old and a few in their 60s. I’d say the majority would be in their 50s,” Abernathy said. “That’s a lot younger than what we were seeing before” the latest surge in COVID, which health experts said has been driven by the Delta variant.

Abernathy said Athens-Limestone had 19 COVID patients, including the six in ICU, Oct. 4. Fifteen of the 19 patients in the hospital who have COVID are not vaccinated, she said.

“This data is showing me the vaccines that are available are working,” Abernathy said. “We saw the numbers really going down recently, and the vaccines were slowing it down. It’s basically to the point of getting COVID or getting vaccinated.”

The combined COVID death toll in Morgan, Lawrence and Limestone counties climbed by 17 to 648 in the week ending Oct. 4, according to ADPH data. Statewide, COVID deaths increased by 446 to 14,025 over the week.

According to the ADPH, about 25 days will elapse between the time of the COVID death and the time that death is made part of the official count because the agency must await a death certificate and review medical files to confirm the virus was the cause of the death.

Statewide, according to the Alabama Hospital Association, there were 1,149 hospitalized COVID patients Oct. 4, including 23 children and five pregnant women.