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This chart, provided by East Alabama Medical Center, shows the erratic local trend for reported COVID-19 infections.

COVID-19 infections are ticking up and hospitalization numbers remain steady, East Alabama Medical Center reported Tuesday.

“Previously, I mentioned that when we reopen the economy, it would be ideal if the young and healthy would do it first,” said Dr. Ricardo Maldonado, EAMC’s Infectious Diseases specialist. “That’s so that we avoid a sharp increase in hospitalizations of very sick patients that can often lead to respiratory failure and ICU usage.”

Maldonado says that he believes that could be how coronavirus is playing out in Lee County.

“If some of the young and healthy individuals can have the virus and recover without passing it on to people requiring hospitalization, then that actually helps our community build immunity to it — it’s a process called herd immunity,” he added.

Not over yet

Don’t mistake that as the beginning of the end, however. Maldonado said one person’s lack of symptoms means nothing for the people they are exposed to.

“If they are walking around without masks and thinking they don’t have COVID-19, then it puts the vulnerable population at risk,” he said. “This is especially true in grocery stores, which is a place that all age groups have to visit. The young and healthy — and really all age groups — need to understand that wearing a mask says ‘I care about protecting those at risk’ and not wearing one says just the opposite.”

Maldonado expects that some of the new cases will ultimately lead to more hospitalizations, as the increase in infected people eventually spills over to the older, at-risk population.

“Plus, in the past couple of weeks, we are seeing healthier adults without comorbidities getting sick with COVID-19 and being admitted to EAMC, some of them quite sick,” Maldonado added. “I expect most of them to respond to medical therapy, but it is very telling that they got sick enough to be hospitalized.”

Increased testing

EAMC officials acknowledge that increased COVID-19 testing has driven up reported infections; however, the percentage of confirmed cases remains somewhat constant.

EAMC spokesman John Atkinson noted that during the week of April 12-18, a total of 9,064 people were tested statewide and 12.6 percent were positive. The most recent week available from state officials shows that 31,948 people were tested (the most in Alabama in one week so far) and 10.2 percent were positive.

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