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ICU bed use, COVID-19 hospitalizations reach new highs in Alabama

Eddie Burkhalter

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Since the first case of COVID-19 arrived in Alabama in March, Dr. Donald Williamson, the president of the Alabama Hospital Association, has said he’s confident the state’s hospitals can handle an influx of coronavirus patients.

That changed Tuesday morning, when the state recorded the most COVID-19 patients ever being cared for across the state and, on the same day, had the fewest available intensive care beds since the pandemic began.

“For the first time, I would have to say, I’m growing worried about the system,” Williamson told APR. Before Tuesday, Williamson has expressed concerns about individual hospitals or cities, but not the state as a whole.

On Tuesday, there were 678 COVID-19 patients across the state’s hospitals, 73 of whom were admitted on Tuesday, Williamson said, the largest number of admissions in a single day since the pandemic began.

Of the state’s 1,600 available ICU beds, on Tuesday morning, just 268 were available, the lowest since the COVID-19 crisis began.

“This morning we theoretically had three ICU beds in the Montgomery region,” Williamson said. “The truth is, by the time they get that report, I suspect those beds were filled.”

However, about 58 percent of the state’s supply of ventilators — the lifesaving devices that are so often needed to keep the worst-off COVID-19 patients alive — were available Tuesday morning.

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The Tuscaloosa area had a single ICU bed available Tuesday morning, Williamson said.

“And what I’m worried about is I’m now looking at Huntsville, and I’m looking at Birmingham and their ICU bed availability is beginning to decrease,” Williamson said.

For more than 10 days, the state has been running at around 600 admitted COVID-19 patients daily, and if that pace keeps up into the fall, when hospitals begin seeing regular flu patients in need of that same care, it could quickly overwhelm the state’s hospital system, Williamson said. It’s the worst-case scenario, he said.

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Williamson said he’s concerned that the public is no longer taking the need to social distance and wear masks seriously, and it’s showing in the continued increase of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

With Fourth of July celebrations nearing, businesses reopening and churches beginning to hold in-person gatherings, Williamson said he’s concerned we could be in for a “very, very bad July.”

“I’m worried that in the flu season with COVID-19 not under control, that’s when we potentially create the greatest stress on the system,” Williamson said.

Jackson Hospital in Montgomery recorded the largest number of COVID-19 patients on Tuesday, with 62 patients being cared for.

Baptist Health’s three hospitals in the Montgomery area on Tuesday had 117 COVID-19 patients. Combined, the Montgomery area hospitals are caring for more patients than at any point since the pandemic began.

Despite Alabama’s continued rise in cases and hospitalizations, Vice President Mike Pence in a call with governors on Monday, encouraged them to tell the public that new coronavirus outbreaks is due to a rise in testing, a statement that data from numerous states shows to be incorrect — including in Alabama.

“I would just encourage you all, as we talk about these things, to make sure and continue to explain to your citizens the magnitude of increase in testing,” Pence said on a call with governors, as reported by The New York Times. “And that in most of the cases where we are seeing some marginal rise in number, that’s more a result of the extraordinary work you’re doing.”

“But also encourage people with the news that we are safely reopening the country,” Pence continued. “That, as we speak today, because people are going back to hospitals and elective surgery and getting ordinary care, hospitalization rates may be going up. But according to our most current information, hospitalizations for coronavirus are going down across the country.”

Pence’s suggestions do not match the reality in Alabama, where the rise in new COVID-19 cases isn’t attributed solely to increases in testing, and where hospitalizations of coronavirus patients specifically continue to increase.

The 7-day rolling average of the percent of tests that are positive statewide in Alabama doubled within the last two weeks, from 7 percent to nearly 14 percent.

The positivity rate was as high as 23 percent on April 12, but the data was misleading, as the state was not capturing all negatives. At the time, fewer commercial labs consistently reported their negatives, according to Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris speaking to APR then, meaning that the positivity rate could have been artificially higher.

Taking that into account, since the state started collecting nearly all negative tests performed by labs, making it possible to calculate a somewhat reliable positivity rate, the state’s 7-day rolling average positivity rate of 14 percent today is as high as it’s ever been since the pandemic began.

Such a high positivity rate suggests the state is missing many more undiagnosed cases and is not performing enough tests. Public health experts say the positivity rate should be at least below 5 percent.

Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients are also as high as ever before.

The state’s 7-day rolling average of hospitalizations on Monday was at 618 patients, a record high, and the daily number of COVID-19 patients being treated on Monday was 640, third highest yet. The other two highest daily COVID-19 patients happened on June 10 and June 11.

By Tuesday, that number rose to 678.

Across the country many states continue to hit record numbers of hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The Washington Post reported that ten states  — Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas — saw record high hospitalized patients on Sunday.

And in Mobile, where President Donald Trump plans to soon hold a rally for Tommy Tuberville, who’s running against former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the data shows continued community spread of the virus.

Within the last week, Mobile County saw 284 new coronavirus cases, trailing behind just three other counties which had more new cases in that time, including Tuscaloosa, Jefferson and Montgomery counties.

As of Monday, only Montgomery County had more confirmed cases than Mobile County.

For the weekend ending June 13, Mobile County recorded the second highest number of COVID-19 patients attributed to community spread, meaning the patients weren’t from a nursing home or long-term care facility.

That week county hospitals were treating 248 COVID-19 patients, according to the Mobile County Health Department.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Mobile County increased by 162 percent between April 30, when Gov. Kay Ivey’s “stay at home” order ended, and June 16, when the county recorded 2,771 cases.

After the lifting of the “stay at home” order  Ivey issued a “safer-at-home” order that loosened restrictions. The state has since relaxed more restrictions twice, allowing more businesses, churches and entertainment venues to reopen with social-distancing restrictions and sanitation guidelines.

Trump’s planned rally is to be held at the Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, where in August 2015 Trump held a rally that drew between 20,000 and 30,000 people. Before the event hundreds gathered outside tailgating as if before a football game, according to news accounts.

Attempts to reach Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson this week for comment on the planned rally were unsuccessful.

Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager,  on Monday tweeted that rally goers in Tulsa will each get hand sanitizer,  have temperature checks and be given masks, although the masks won’t be required.

The campaign hasn’t mentioned anything publicly about social distancing at the Tulsa rally.

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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Health

Alabama reports record-breaking 2,164 new COVID-19 cases

Thursday’s number of new cases hit 2,164 and blew past the previous daily record set on July 3 by 406 cases.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Thirty-two percent of the state’s 48,588 cumulative confirmed cases have been added within the last two weeks. (APR GRAPHIC)

New COVID-19 cases in Alabama on Thursday jumped by nearly double from the day before, and for the first time broke 2,000 in a single day, according to the latest data from the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Thursday’s number of new cases hit 2,164 and blew past the previous daily record set on July 3 by 406 cases. Both the seven-day and 14-day rolling average of new daily cases in Alabama were also at record highs Thursday. 

Thirty-two percent of the state’s 48,588 cumulative confirmed cases have been added within the last two weeks. 

The Alabama Department of Public Health did not publish Wednesday an update to the total number of tests performed, which throws off the day’s figures for the percentage of tests that are positive, but on average, over the last week, the state’s seven-day rolling average of percent positivity has roughly 15 percent. 

Public health experts say the percent positivity should be at or below 5 percent — otherwise there isn’t enough testing being done and cases are going undetected. 

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Along with surging new cases, the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized on Wednesday was higher than it’s been since the beginning of the pandemic. On Wednesday 1,110 coronavirus patients were being treated in state hospitals, which was the fourth straight day of record current hospitalizations. 

UAB Hospital’s COVID-19 Intensive care units were nearing their existing capacity Tuesday. The hospital has both a COVID ICU and a COVID acute care unit designated to keep patients separated from those who don’t have the virus, but it has more space in other non-COVID units should it need to add additional bed space.

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Hospitals in Madison County this week are also seeing a surge of COVID-19 patients. Paul Finley, the mayor of the city of Madison, told reporters Wednesday that local hospitals were reporting record numbers.

Hospitals there were at 80 to 90 percent capacity.

“Our ambulances yesterday had their greatest number of runs since this started,” said Crestwood Hospital CEO Dr. Pam Hudson on Wednesday, adding that in about 20 percent of calls staff is having to wear full personal protective equipment. “That indicates that they are working with patients who have symptoms that could be compatible with COVID.”

Meanwhile, Madison County set a new daily record, adding 286 cases Thursday, the first time the county has surpassed 200 cases a day. The county was largely spared early on in the pandemic, with low case counts and low death rates, but roughly 42 percent of Madison County’s total case count since March has been reported in the last week as 803 new cases have been added.

Jefferson County and Madison County, over the last week, have accounted for 26 percent of the state’s new cases.

Jefferson County led the state in the most new cases Thursday with 343 and has added 1,498 cases in the last week. The county’s total cases increased by 33 percent from last week, and stood at 6,030 confirmed COVID-19 cases Thursday.

While Jefferson County and Madison County are seeing the state’s most intense increases, other large counties including Shelby County, Baldwin County and Tuscaloosa County have also seen record increases and rising percent positive rates.

At least 81 people have died from COVID-19 in the last week, and 162 people have died in the last two weeks.

At least 1,042 people have died from COVID-19 since March, and at least 26 other deaths are listed as “probable” COVID-19 deaths.

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Economy

Alabama Innovation Fund, Auburn support development of saliva COVID testing device

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Alabama Department of Commerce and the City of Auburn’s Industrial Development Board have teamed to award $250,000 in funding to accelerate the development of OraSecure LLC’s breakthrough patent-pending saliva collection device intended to help in the ongoing battle against the novel coronavirus.

Support from the Alabama Innovation Fund and the City of Auburn will help OraSecure finalize the initial manufacturing run needed to begin mass producing its devices and complete validation with the FDA. Production of the devices will take place in Auburn.

“The Alabama Innovation Fund is a key component in our efforts to spark the creation of high-impact ’Made in Alabama’ products by stimulating breakthrough research,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “With this support, we are helping OraSecure speed the development of a specimen collection device that can make a difference in the pandemic response while simultaneously raising the state’s profile in the bioscience industry.”

For more information, see the attachment or click this link: https://www.madeinalabama.com/2020/07/orasecure_saliva_collection_device/

 

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Health

Decatur joins growing list of Alabama cities, counties requiring masks

In a 3-1 vote, the ordinance passed, but it wasn’t clear Wednesday when the order will go into effect.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Decatur is joining a growing list of Alabama cities and counties requiring masks in public. (STOCK PHOTO)

Decatur City Council members on Wednesday approved a face mask order that will require the wearing of masks in public and while on public transportation, joining a growing list of local municipalities and counties taking up such measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

In a 3-1 vote, the ordinance passed, but it wasn’t clear Wednesday when the order will go into effect.

The ordinance will require Decatur residents to wear masks while outside, in restaurants or businesses and on public transportation. Failure to do so could result in a fine of up to $500. 

Council members Paige Bibbee, Billy Jackson and Charles Kirby voted to approve the ordinance, and  Council member Kristi Hill voted against the measure, according to a video of the meeting

Decatur Police Chief Nate Allen told Council members before the vote that the area’s hospital intensive care beds are “approaching capacity” and elective surgeries have been cancelled to save room for COVID-19 patients. 

The city of Decatur is in Morgan and Limestone counties. In Morgan County, 30 percent of the county’s total COVID-19 cases have come in the last two weeks, while Limestone County added 44 percent of the county’s cases within the last two weeks.

Decatur Council members’ decision Wednesday came on a day when Alabama saw yet another record high number of COVID-19 patients being cared for in hospitals.

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On Wednesday, the state added 1,161 new COVID-19 cases and 25 deaths from the virus. It’s killed 1,032 people in Alabama, the UAB physician said. At least 1,110 people were being treated in hospitals in the state Wednesday, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health, the most since the pandemic began.

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Health

Madison County seeing surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations, ambulance calls

Eddie Burkhalter

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Dr. Pam Hudson, the CEO of Crestwood Hospital, speaks at a city briefing Wednesday. (CITY OF HUNTSVILLE)

A surge of COVID-19 cases in Madison County troubles the CEO of Crestwood Hospital, who said the public needs to take the virus seriously and do what’s needed to slow the spread by wearing masks and practicing social distancing. 

Madison County added 66 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, when the county’s total case count hit 1,620. Though Madison County had largely been spared through the early months of the pandemic, with very low case counts and deaths, over the last week, the county has reported 563 new cases — a 53 percent increase.

“Our county cases continue to climb,” said Crestwood Hospital CEO Dr. Pam Hudson, speaking at a briefing Wednesday.

“We have to flatten the curve again,” Hudson said.

Hudson said the percentage of tests that are positive in the county used to be much lower, but are now in line with the state’s current percent positivity rate of 9.92 percent. The percent positivity was 13.52 percent on Wednesday, based on fourteen-day averages of case and test increases. She said the county’s hospitals are very busy. 

“We were already busy before we had this uptick,” Hudson said. 

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There were 1,110 COVID-19 patients being cared for statewide Wednesday, the highest number since the start of the pandemic. 

Paul Finley, the mayor of the city of Madison, said there were 163 COVID-19 patients Wednesday in the Crestwood and Huntsville Hospital systems, which is a 31 percent increase from last week.

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“There’s no question that these numbers continue to rise,” Finley said.

Hudson said, on average, the hospital is running at between 80 and 90 percent capacity.

“Our ambulances yesterday had their greatest number of runs since this started,” Hudson said, adding that in about 20 percent of calls staff is having to wear full personal protective equipment. “That indicates that they are working with patients who have symptoms that could be compatible with COVID.” 

A face mask order for the public went into effect Tuesday in Madison County. Similar orders are in effect in Jefferson County, Montgomery, Mobile, Selma and Tuscaloosa.

Last week Madison County had 500 people who tested positive for COVID-19 and were under active quarantine and being tracked by the Alabama Department of Public Health, Hudson said. On Wednesday that number was 847.

“So things are not all well in our county,” Hudson said. “COVID-19 has gained, and is continuing to gain footholds in our community.” 

Hudson said she believes the spike in cases and hospitalizations in the county comes down to people not wearing masks in public, not practicing social distancing and bars and restaurants, which are hotspots for the virus’s transmission. 

Hudson reiterated a statement made by Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, that up to 40 percent of coronavirus cases are caused by someone who is infected and has no symptoms, and one in 10 COVID-19 patients need hospitalization, Hudson said. 

“So this is not a nothing disease. Thirty percent of those patients who are hospitalized will end up in an ICU,” Hudson said. “And of those, 30 to 40 percent will die.” 

Local hospitals are “bumping up into some challenges” with the availability of ICU beds, Hudson said, and the medical staff is under strain and the threat of becoming infected themselves every day.

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