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Growth of Alabama COVID-19 cases looks a lot like Louisiana. That should worry us

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On a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Gov. Kay Ivey explained why she wouldn’t issue a “shelter-in-place” or “stay-at-home” order in Alabama.

“Folks, we have no current plans to do so,” Ivey said. “We have seen other states in the country doing that as well as other countries. However, y’all, we are not California. We are not New York. We are not even Louisiana.”

Well, the rate at which new cases are being reported in Alabama is beginning to look a lot more like Louisiana than other southeastern states like Georgia and Florida.

The graph above uses a log scale to show the number of cases reported in each of the four states—Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana—since each state reached its sixth confirmed case.

Alabama now has 440 confirmed cases of COVID-19, as of Wednesday night, but the state reported its sixth case on Friday, March 13.

Wednesday was the 12th day since Alabama reported its sixth case. Our total nearly doubled in one day, from 242 cases on Tuesday night, to 440 by Wednesday night.

Alabama does have fewer cases than Louisiana did on its 12th day since its sixth case. Louisiana had 1,100 cases on its 12th day. But Alabama has far more cases than Florida and Georgia did at this point.

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Florida reported 186 cases on its 12th day, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project, and Georgia reported 287. Alabama has more than twice the number of cases as Florida did at this point—and 150 more cases than Georgia did. Both states now have more than 1,000 cases.

Some of this could be chalked up to testing. Alabama could be testing way more than Louisiana, Georgia or Florida were at this point in their COVID-19 experience. But we can’t tell, because Alabama reports significantly less information about tests performed in this state than Florida, Georgia or Louisiana.

Either way, that is unlikely, because Louisiana has tested nearly 11,500 people. The Alabama Department of Public Health has reported less than 3,000 tests, though that includes only some negative results from commercial labs.

Because of that lack of data, all we can tell is that Alabama’s confirmed COVID-19 cases are growing significantly faster than Florida or Georgia, two states that have significantly larger populations than Alabama.

We’re not in as bad of shape as Louisiana is, but we are not that far off, either.

In Louisiana, there have been 65 deaths so far, and the president has declared a major disaster. The number of patients needing a ventilator in the state jumped from 94 on Tuesday to 163 on Wednesday.

For reference, there were already at least 60 patients with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis at UAB Medical Center in Birmingham Wednesday morning. Of those, 34 were on ventilators. There are surely more in other hospitals in the state.

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Data show that Alabama and Louisiana have similar populations and demographics. Alabama has about 4.8 million people. Louisiana has 4.6 million. They also normally have a similar number of hospital beds. Alabama has about 14,800, and Louisiana has 14,500, according to the American Hospital Directory.

But Louisiana has far more ventilators than Alabama. According to Alabama Hospital Association President, Dr. Donald Williamson, the state’s hospitals have about 1,344 ventilators. On any given day, about 550 are in use on average, leaving a surge capacity of only about 800.

“We know that over the course of two or three weeks a situation can look a lot different than it does now,” state health officer Dr. Scott Harris said Tuesday.

Louisiana has nearly 2,750 ventilators, yet Gov. John Bell Edwards is warning that the state could run out of ventilators by the first week in April.

If our current rate of growth continues, nothing changes, and we don’t find more ventilators, Alabama could run out of by sometime in mid- to late April.

An analysis published by the Alabama Political Reporter Wednesday showed that more than 100 people are already hospitalized statewide with confirmed diagnoses of COVID-19 or illnesses the hospitals highly suspect as being COVID-19. That number has probably already increased.

Our analysis showed that, if you include hospitalized individuals in Alabama awaiting COVID-19 test results, the number is closer to 300.

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In Louisiana, a total of 491 patients are currently in hospitals.

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said Tuesday that some hospitals in Alabama are already nearing capacity. He did not name them.

It’s hard to know where we currently are in Alabama. Until recently, testing in the state was hard to come by. The numbers are now starting to tick up. We really don’t know how many people have been tested, so we can’t see the virus’s attack rate in Alabama.

We also don’t know exactly how many people are hospitalized in Alabama nor how many are on ventilators, despite APR‘s best efforts to get an estimate. The Alabama Department of Public Health has so far refused to publish these numbers.

Louisiana publishes its hospitalization numbers and how many are on ventilators.

New York has already reached the precarious point in its COVID-19 journey at which its hospitals are reaching capacity and it has to begin taking drastic measures to take care of its sick. New York City could run out of ICU beds by Friday. Louisiana is now nearing that point, too.

Alabama has so far been reluctant to issue a stay-at-home order or a shelter-in-place order, though Jefferson County and Birmingham have issued more intense restrictions than the state as a whole.

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Ivey said Tuesday that she wasn’t considering one at this time.

“My priority is to keep the Alabama economy going as much as possible, while we take extraordinary measures to keep everyone healthy and safe,” Ivey said.”

Let’s hope that the situation in Alabama doesn’t get as bad as Louisiana, California or New York. But if it does, that we are prepared.

 

Chip Brownlee
Written By

Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.

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