The Shoppes at Bel Air in Mobile, Ala., sits vacant on Monday, April 27, 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic. The mall was, at least for 10 days in August 2021, transformed into a vaccine clinic. But the owners requested it shut down because of spillover parking concerns. (John Sharp/jsharp@al.com).
A record number of 480 people with COVID-19 filled up Mobile County’s hospitals Monday, placing continued stress on a healthcare industry that is pleading for relief.
Mobile city officials, on Tuesday, wanted to recognize those workers with a proclamation and are encouraging prayer and for local churches and other houses of worship to toll their bells for one minute at noon each day for the next week. The proclamation, entitled “Healthcare Prayer and Appreciation Week,” is in effect from Wednesday to August 25.
“Our hospital workers are maxed out,” said Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson on a day when national news agencies are reporting that Alabama only two intensive care unit beds available within the entire state. “I sincerely hope you will reach out to your network (of friends and family), your church and your community organizations and help to spread this word. If you have not had the opportunity to talk to a family member of those on the front line, you cannot grasp what is really going on.”
‘Self-inflicted’
But the prayer plea, while supported by council members, also stirred some impassioned comments from local officials on the importance of getting vaccinated. Mobile County remains at only 32% of its residents fully vaccinated, a number that one Mobile County Health Department official said was “not moving the needle very much or very quickly.
“They are dealing with an unprecedented crisis in our hospitals,” Councilman Joel Daves said. “If everyone that could had gone out and got vaccinated (would have done so), we would not be here today.”
Daves said he believes prayers also need to be afforded to individuals, who do not have COVID-19, but who are also impacted by the lack of resources at the area’s hospitals.
“I got an email from a lady who said her mother has a serious health condition and was scheduled for surgery to ameliorate that condition,” Daves said. “The hospital called her back and said they could not take her on the scheduled date because the beds were taken up by COVID patients.”
He added, “What we are going through right now is a preventable surge, a preventable wave.”
Mobile City Council President Levon Manzie also recalled a story in which he said he was sitting at a doctor’s office and was called a “sheep” because he was wearing a face mask.
“She said we were listening to Dr. (Anthony) Fauci and all of this was made up science and helicopters were out there and just some weird, out there, allegations,” said Manzie. “We sat there and listened. We didn’t argue.”
He added, “Her funeral was Saturday. She contracted the virus and she passed.”
Manzie, a local minister, continued, “We could have all of these great weeks of prayer and I am for prayer. I am a man of prayer. Wouldn’t be here without it. But after we did all of the prayers, God has given us common sense. It’s getting less and less common these days.”
Manzie said the rise of infections and hospitalizations has been “self-inflicted” and “unnecessary.”
“It’s funny and it’s comical and it’s not serious until it’s at your doorstep,” Manzie said. “And then all the giggles go away and real life settles in. If you have an opportunity to get vaccinated, take advantage of it.”
Hospital alternatives
The activity at Government Plaza also comes as Mobile city officials are pushing to expand health care services inside the Mobile Civic Center, where USA Health administers COVID-19 vaccines.
Stimpson said he’s working with hospital officials to provide monoclonal antibody treatment at the downtown venue, but noted that nothing concrete has been established. Mobile Infirmary officials, last week, said there could be opportunities to provide those treatments outside of the overstressed hospital buildings.
“Instead of going to the hospitals, we are looking to do that at the Civic Center,” Stimpson said.
The activity at the Civic Center is occurring with the backdrop of the closure of a vaccine and testing clinic at a former Forever 21 store at the Shoppes at Bel Air Mall in midtown Mobile.
The Mobile County Health Department operated the mall clinic for 10 days before being ordered on Sunday to shut it down amid complaints about spillover traffic that violated parking restrictions between the mall’s owner and the other mall tenants.
It had been popular and outdrew the attendance of community clinics the Health Department held for several weeks.
Dr. Rendi Murphree, the head epidemiologist with the Health Department, said that 1,127 people were vaccinated at the mall site, and 4,461 people were tested for COVID-19. Of those, 17% tested positive for the virus, she said. The mall site “far exceeded” the traffic generated at nearly two dozen vaccination clinics the Health Department hosted in recent weeks.
“I spent time with people and listening to their conversations and they felt like the mall was an easy space to get into and out of,” Murphree said. “It’s a neutral location. It’s not downtown. A lot of folks still don’t like to go to downtown Mobile. The waits were also manageable compared to other urgent care clinics. We had lengthy waits sometimes, but they were no longer than one hour and 15 minutes.”
Murphree on Monday said they are looking for an alternative site to replace the mall location.
On Tuesday, Councilwoman Bess Rich recommended the city-owned Hank Aaron Stadium near Interstate 65. But Stimpson said that weather is a challenge for health officials when operating a mass vaccination clinic.
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