Alabama’s top public health doctors says state in crisis with COVID-19 surge

Published 9:56 pm Friday, August 27, 2021

Alabama’s top health official said Friday that he and his colleagues are “intensely frustrated” as COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to rise, a surge he partly attributed to people who have refused to get vaccinated or change their behavior.

The state is grappling with an intensive care unit bed shortage, and federal medical teams and mobile morgue units have been sent to hospitals in the south.

“We are really in a crisis,” Health Officer Scott Harris said during his Friday briefing. “We’ve said that over and over for several weeks. We need people to understand that you, yourself — if you’re hearing these words — you’re the person who’s going to make a difference. You need to be responsible for your behavior. You need to do what it takes to not continue this situation. I don’t know how much longer we’re going to be able to do this.”

Alabama ranks fourth for new cases per capita — behind Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi — and continues to have one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.

“So much of what we’re seeing is preventable,” Harris said when asked about what was causing his frustration. “We’re seeing this because people don’t want to get vaccinated, and they don’t want to change their behavior. They would rather have an argument about masks than have an argument about how we keep our children safe or how do we protect Alabama hospitals. It is very frustrating for all of us.”

Scott said the state again, “had a very difficult week.” Hospitalizations were at 2,887 Friday, right under the record 3,087 set in January. He said the state is also seeing a surge in virus cases among school-age children.

A state dashboard reporting virus cases in schools was reactivated Friday, showing more than 4,000 cases reported this week. The number is low, state officials said, because only 52 of 143 school districts have reported.

The Alabama Department of Public Health said Thursday that 5,571 children ages 5 to 17 were reported to have contracted COVID-19 last week. That compares to 702 cases in school-age children during the same week last year, when more than half of students were studying remotely, and the delta variant was not yet circulating.

Don Williamson, the former state health officer who now heads the Alabama Hospital Association, said intensive care units typically have about 25% of beds free, but the state now has a “net negative” of beds because many hospitals are over their capacity.