COVID-19 ‘out of control’ in Alabama, health official warns

November 20, 2020 

The novel coronavirus is “out of control” in Alabama, warned a state health official this week.

Alabama has reported some 225,910 cases of COVID-19 to date, according to data from the state health department. The rolling daily average of new cases has increased over the past two weeks to 684, representing a 50% jump. Current estimates show that one in every 342 people in the state has tested positive for the virus in the past week alone.

“It’s out of control,” Dr. Donald Williamson, the president of the Alabama Hospital Association and former director of the state health agency, said during a news conference, according to a local news outlet. “Our ability to contain the virus has been lost.”

“We have everything necessary to have a disaster between now and the end of December,” Williamson warned as Thanksgiving and the holiday season approach.

While only 14% of the intensive care beds in state hospitals are empty and a few people are beginning to show up with the flu, fewer COVID-19 patients are requiring ICU space because of improvements in treatments, Williamson said. Of roughly 1,400 intensive care beds that were in use statewide Tuesday, only 368 were filled by COVID-19 patients.

Still, some hospitals already are hiring traveling workers from out of state to help care for patients, he said, and a few are attempting to hire workers from other countries to fill gaps caused by high caseloads and workers who’ve gotten sick themselves from the virus or are fatigued after months of fighting the pandemic.

“Every hospital I talk to, their biggest problem is staffing,” said Williamson.

The hopes of putting a stop to the coronavirus pandemic lie with two promising coronavirus vaccine candidates, developed by Moderna and Pfizer, respectively. Both have proven highly efficacious in late-stage clinical trials, with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, calling the results “truly striking.”

Shortly after the Pfizer news broke, however, an Alabama official cautioned against too much excitement.

“Even if we find out, in say three to four weeks, that the Pfizer vaccine continues to look good, they continue to analyze the data and … they continue to show there’s safety in the months after getting the vaccine, how many people do you think they are geared up to immunize by the end of the year?” Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, director of the infectious disease division at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, said at a recent briefing.

“Turns out, it’s only going to 10 to 15 million people globally, so that is a tiny drop in the bucket, which is one of the reasons I think we’ve got to keep our hats on about excitement around the vaccine.”

The news comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published updated guidelines regarding Thanksgiving that urged Americans not to travel to see family and friends.

“Gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu,” the guidelines state.

Additionally, coronavirus deaths in the US reached 250,000 on Wednesday evening, with the nation recording more virus deaths than any other country in the world.

Virus cases are also surging, with Texas, California and Florida leading the nation with the most cases to date. Overall, more than 11,529,818 cases of the illness have been reported in the US so far.

Alabama Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris speaks during a news conference update on COVID-19 restrictions at the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama.AP

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