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Almost five months into the COVID-19 pandemic, local health officials feel like they are delivering a message from a skipping record.

Officials at Russell Medical have been in the midst of a battle against the new virus and, while manageable, are alarmed at how many people believe the coronavirus is no big deal.

“This virus is real and it is serious,” Russell Medical vice president of clinical services Sarah Beth Gettys said. “You can die from it and we are still seeing it here.”

Although there is more testing, Gettys concern is people are not following the precautions and it's showing in the percentage of positive cases in Tallapoosa County.

“We are seeing about 16% test positive right now,” Gettys said. “Early on in the pandemic we were seeing about 6% positivity. We may be testing more but we are seeing a higher level of positive cases.”

COVID-19 is not the only thing patients are requesting help with.

“We are seeing flu,” Gettys said. “We are thinking COVID-19 because the symptoms are similar. Some are flu, some are COVID-19 and some are both.”

With flu season appearing to start early, Russell Medical is planning to start flu shots for its staff earlier.

“We start getting the vaccine in August,” Gettys said. “We get it in waves and will get the employees first.”

Russell Medical hasn’t stood up more intensive care unit beds like it did in April and May but its six beds are full. As patients’ conditions change, so do their statuses.

“They are turning over ICU beds often,” Russell Medical director of marketing Susan Foy said.

Gettys said, “We turned some twice (Tuesday).”

As the numbers of hospitalizations increase, Foy said staff at Russell Medical is beginning to experience the same things it did at the beginning of the pandemic.

“That nervousness is back,” Foy said. “You know there aren’t an infinite number of ICU beds.”

Foy and Gettys said Russell Medical has a good relationship with larger hospitals to transfer patients if needed.

“We have some at (East Alabama Medical Center),” Gettys said. “We have sent some to Baptist South and to UAB during the pandemic.”

The message to slow the hospitalizations is the same — social distancing, handwashing and properly wearing a mask.

“If you are going to wear a mask, wear it the right way,” Foy said. “It has to cover the nose and mouth to be effective.”

As the pandemic continues, operations at Russell Medical have returned to a new normal.

“We are still restricting visitors,” Gettys said. “We have entrances closed and are screening everyone that comes in.”

Other matters at Russell Medical are now back to normal despite COVID-19.

“We are doing surgeries,” Gettys said. “Every patient that has a scheduled surgery will be tested. If an overnight stay is required for something, they don’t need to worry about COVID-19.”

Gettys said they have a COVID-19 unit and those patients needing to stay overnight are not nearby.

For those families who are worried about their loved ones staying overnight at Russell Medical, Gettys said the staff is doing its best to keep them informed.

“Each shift is trying to call twice — that is four times a day,” Gettys said.

Foy said the clinics of Russell Medical are also fully operational and normal checkups are still recommended.

“Don’t postpone health checks,” Foy said. “All of our clinics are able to handle those visits.”

Cliff Williams is a staff writer for Tallapoosa Publishers.