Record-High Coronavirus Cases Straining Alabama’s Hospitals and Health Care Workers

Friday, July 10 marked the sixth straight day of record-high COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state of Alabama. There were 1,183 people hospitalized Friday alone.

The number of coronavirus hospitalizations reported by the Alabama Department of Public Health has increased by 82 percent since the beginning of July. This is only expected to increase in the coming days as Alabamians continue to ignore social distancing guidelines.

The anticipated surge in infections caused by Independence Day weekend is only a few days away. With public schools set to open next month, public health experts are concerned that time to control the surge in cases is running out.

“I think we’ve got a very narrow window if we’re going to get a handle on it,” said Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association on Friday.

Williamson also expressed concern that coupled with the dwindling number of hospital beds, the strain on health care workers will diminish the quality of care. Alabama currently has less than 1,600 available hospital beds statewide, less than 20 percent of the state’s capacity.

“The last three days have given us the lowest number of available ICU beds in the state since this began,” he said. “There’s still people having strokes, heart attacks, babies, and automobile accidents. You can’t use all your hospital beds for COVID. You have to be able to continue to take care of other things.”

While other nations have been declared free of coronavirus, the number of cases in the United States continues to climb at alarming rates. The United States broke its record of more than 66,000 new coronavirus cases in a single day on Friday, which was set the previous day.

Last week, Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas all saw record-high daily coronavirus spikes and record numbers of coronavirus deaths in a single day.

During Senator Doug Jones’ weekly teleconference, Dr. Anthony Fauci criticized Alabama’s response to the spike in cases. The number of positive coronavirus tests among young people suggested that the spike was caused by Alabamians’ “risky behavior,” particularly more people going to bars and other large gatherings.

Dr. Fauci supported mandating that masks be worn in public, especially in larger cities. Lack of political will has prevented such policies from being instituted in Alabama.

“On March 15, when the first Lee County case was announced the news spread like wildfire and people were buying every cleaning agent they could find at the store,” said East Alabama Medical Center President and CEO Sarah Grill. “[On Thursday], Alabama announced 2,164 new cases in the past 24 hours – by far the most in a single day – and people are still debating the merits of wearing a mask, calling the virus a hoax and questioning qualified health officials on whether an asymptomatic person can spread the virus. It’s all very frustrating.”

Hospital systems being overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients has been the leading concern among health experts since the beginning of the pandemic.

Hospitals in Houston, Texas have already begun to turn away emergency responders with new patients due to over-crowded emergency rooms and inadequate staffing. Alabama hospitals are likely to face similar problems in the coming days.

Sources: Politico 7/12/2020; Alabama News Online 7/11/2020; Montgomery Advertiser 7/10/2020; ABC News 7/8/2020

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