A record-high number of COVID-19 deaths were reported in Alabama on Wednesday, as the number of hospitalized coronavirus patients statewide this week continues to hit record numbers as well.
On Wednesday, the Alabama Department of Public Health reported 57 new coronavirus deaths, breaking the previous daily record of 47 set July 15. Ryan Easterling, director of health media and communications at the Alabama Department of Public Health, in a response to APR on Wednesday, wrote that the increase in deaths reported Wednesday was “because of a delay due to data review, and not an increase in deaths.”
Easterling wrote that ADPH reviews each death of someone who tests positive for COVID-19 to learn about underlying health issues and demographic data.
“The ADPH team attempts to complete the process as expediently as possible. Some factors that delay reporting of deaths include receiving records from hospitals or coroners as well as the time involved in a thorough review of the clinical course, comorbid conditions, laboratory data, and other information pertinent to the death,” Easterling said.
The high number of deaths reported Wednesday followed several days during which far fewer deaths were reported, which could explain the large increase. But the delay in data collection that resulted in the spike Wednesday can’t explain why the seven and 14-day averages of the daily increase to the state’s death toll have increased substantially in the last two weeks. Seven- and fourteen-day averages are used to smooth out daily inconsistencies and variability in reporting data.
The 14-day average of deaths was 21 on Wednesday — meaning that on average, the state reported 21 deaths per day for the last 14 days. That’s up from 11 two weeks ago. The seven-day average was 12 two weeks ago but 20 on Wednesday.
The increase in coronavirus deaths also comes as the state’s hospitals continue to see a surge in COVID-19 patients, many of whom need more serious treatment and are filling up many hospitals’ COVID-dedicated intensive care units. On Monday, Alabama set a new daily COVID-19 hospitalization record, with 1,571 patients in hospitals with COVID-19 statewide. A month ago, the seven-day average of daily COVID-19 hospitalizations was 658. But on Wednesday, that same metric was up 126 percent to 1,489.
UAB Hospital on Wednesday was caring for a record-high 105 COVID-19 inpatients for the second day in a row, which was a 23 percent increase from UAB’s inpatient number last Wednesday. East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika on Monday was caring for a record 58 COVID-19 patients — a 48 percent increase from two weeks ago. Hospital administrators there expressed concern Monday over a surge in coronavirus patients, which they said was putting a strain on staff and hospital resources.
In a message on ADPH’s COVID-19 dashboard Wednesday, the department said Wednesday’s statewide COVID hospitalization numbers would be available after 1 p.m. on Thursday, but the trend throughout July has been a steady increase in the number of people with coronavirus needing hospital care.
At East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika, physicians on Wednesday we treating a record number of COVID-19 patients, when the hospital was caring for 62 such patients, eight of whom were on ventilators.
Alabama recorded 1,338 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, which is down significantly from daily totals over the past week, but the decrease appears to be due to an equal reduction in testing.
Over the last three days, labs in Alabama reported 23,701 COVID-19 tests. Over the three days prior, labs reported 34,208 tests. Even with the decline in cases over the last few days, the 14-day average of daily coronavirus case increases was still at a record high Wednesday at 1,714.
Another indicator that the reduction of new cases Wednesday is due to less testing, and not a decrease in the spread of the virus, is that the percentage of tests that are positive remains extremely high.
The state’s current positivity rate — based on seven-day averages of case and test increases — was 17.95 percent. That’s higher than at any point since the pandemic began when taking into account incomplete testing data in early April that inflated the rate then.
Public health experts say the positivity rate needs to be at or below 5 percent or there isn’t enough testing and cases are going undetected. Any higher than 5 percent, and conducting contact tracing, one of the only tools available to public health officials to combat a spreading disease, becomes much more difficult.