The Latest: Alabama virus hospitalizations on ‘dramatic upswing,’ state official says

Published 6:47 pm Thursday, July 2, 2020

The number of COVID-19 patients in Alabama hospitals climbed to more than 800 Thursday, the highest number since the pandemic began, as the number of reported infections continued to rise.

Alabama on Thursday reported an additional 1,200 cases, making it the third consecutive day of adding about 1,000 cases each day. There were 840 COVID-19 patients in state hospitals Thursday, the highest number since the outbreak began, said Dr. Don Williamson, the former state health officer who now heads the Alabama Hospital Association.

“It is very concerning,” State Health Officer Scott Harris said of the latest numbers.

“What we’ve witnessed each time we’ve seen these surges occur, we have had an increased number of cases that pop up for whatever reason and then we begin to see, a few days or week or so later, increases in hospitalizations. The pattern has been shortly after that we begin to see increased numbers of deaths,” Harris said.

Alabama has reported nearly 40,000 cases of the new coronavirus since the pandemic began with more than 25% of infections being reported in the last two weeks, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. So far, at least 947 Alabamians have died after contracting the virus.

“Clearly, we are now in a dramatic upswing,” Williamson said of the latest case and hospitalization numbers.

Williamson said the state has about 16% of intensive care beds available, the lowest number vacant since the pandemic began. By comparison, in early April, the state had 35% of ICU beds available.

“The hospitals are managing, but the trends are accelerating,” Williamson said.

Health officials expressed worry about the upcoming Fourth of July holiday weekend. The state saw an uptick in cases in the weeks following Memorial Day.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday extended the state’s “safer at home” order that, among other things, limits occupancy in stores and restaurants, limits nursing home visitation, prohibits non-work gatherings where social distancing can’t be maintained and requires safety measures at salons and other businesses.

“Let me urge you, in the strongest manner I can, to incorporate COVID-19 precautions into your daily routine,” Ivey said.

Harris urged people to not abandon precautions such as social distancing and wearing masks.

The Department of Public Health on Tuesday released color codings that list counties from low risk to very high risk. Harris said the codings are based on metrics to indicate the trajectory of cases over the last two weeks.

He said a green color doesn’t mean that the risk of COVID-19 has gone away, but that people should keep doing what they are doing to reduce spread.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and even be fatal.