NPR’s David Greene talks to Steven Reed, mayor of Montgomery, Ala., about the dire need for more ICU beds because of a spike in COVID-19 cases — at the same time the state is easing restrictions.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Alabama is facing a coronavirus crisis right now. The state has nearly 15,000 confirmed cases. About a third of those are from the past two weeks alone, according to the state’s public health department. According to one tracker, Alabama is now outpacing 46 other states and the District of Columbia in new cases. Dr. David Thrasher is seeing what this spike looks like firsthand.
DAVID THRASHER: Well, it’s pretty tough. The numbers in Alabama, the numbers in Montgomery are steadily going up.
GREENE: He’s a chief of staff at Jackson Hospital in the city of Montgomery.
THRASHER: Last weekend, when I was on call, we saw 140 patients, which is twice our normal by this time of year. Now, the hospitals per se are hurting.
GREENE: It’s gotten so bad that hospitals in Montgomery are sending coronavirus patients out of the county for treatment. Thrasher says many of the patients are actually young.
THRASHER: I thought we had kind of escaped the surge, but it’s come back with a vengeance the last three weeks.
GREENE: If the situation at Jackson Hospital sounds dire, that’s the story all over the city of Montgomery. Yesterday, only six ICU beds were available across the health system. Last week, one intensive care unit bed was available.
The mayor of Montgomery, Steven Reed, says things are at crisis levels at a time when the state has been easing restrictions. And Mayor Reed joins us on the line this morning. Mayor, thanks for the time.
STEVEN REED: Always a pleasure.
GREENE: What are you hearing from hospitals like Jackson Hospital in terms of what they need most in this moment?
REED: Right now, what I’m hearing is that they’re looking for us to sound the alarm and to let people know we’re still in the middle of a pandemic and that we are in a health crisis and that they’re running short on PPE, they’re running short, obviously, on beds and that, you know, the staff are physically and emotionally spent. So we have to do our part as leaders in the community to make sure we get the public to understand this is not over. We have not won the battle with COVID-19 yet, and we have to continue some of the things that we were doing just a couple months ago by staying at home, wearing masks when in public and practicing all of these sanitary guidelines that have been handed down by the CDC.
GREENE: Have you been seeing people in the city social distancing, wearing masks? I mean, are residents taking those precautions?
REED: I think some are. I think some have decided that the pandemic is over and they’re ready to get back to their normal way of doing things and they’re willing to take the risk. Unfortunately, it’s not just themselves they put at risk when they do that. They put members of the public, their friends, family, colleagues at risk, and, certainly, our first responders and those medical professionals who are also doing, you know, just a great job and have been over the last couple months.
GREENE: Is there something that makes your city more vulnerable? Like what – where do you think this spike is coming from right now?
REED: You know, we can’t point to any one particular place or a flashpoint, if you will. I think what makes us vulnerable is the fact that we’re the regional health care center for central Alabama, and so we have people that come from as far away as 90, 100 miles to our health care system. So we’re getting people from everywhere. And certainly, I think here in Montgomery, we’ve had people who, again, have relaxed their approach and they’ve relaxed their practices and aren’t adhering to social guidelines anymore.
GREENE: Well, I know the governor, Kay Ivey, has moved ahead with lifting restrictions in the state despite some concerns that you’ve expressed. I mean, do you have the authority and are you planning to maybe put stricter measures back in place in your city?
REED: After a 240% increase month over month in COVID cases, we are planning to do whatever we have to do in order to change this trend. And we have limited authority, unfortunately, as mayor, but there are things that we can do, from mandating masks, which we’ve been encouraging for well over two months, making that a city ordinance, to also maybe looking at other ways to tighten the faucet, so to speak. So we’re going to try to do what we can if we don’t see these numbers change here in the next few days.
GREENE: So the next few days – I mean, what is the process? I mean, do you have to, like, go to city council and get that ordinance passed and signed and announce it and get it out there? I mean, it sounds like you really are at a crisis moment where actions like those might be needed.
REED: Absolutely. We need to go to the council and have a discussion with them. But we’re prepared to do that. We’ve already had some of those discussions, and we’re watching the numbers each day, and we’re talking with our medical professionals in this community and our hospital CEOs to also get their feedback as well about the ongoing conditions.
GREENE: All right. Again, speaking to Steven Reed, the mayor of Montgomery, Ala. His city and the state of Alabama seeing a real crisis moment as cases of coronavirus have been increasing in recent days. Mayor, thank you very much for your time this morning.
REED: Thank you for having me.
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