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Hospitals see surge of COVID patients due to Thanksgiving gatherings

“We’ve got to stop this now before conditions get even worse,” UAB’s Dr. Sarah Nafziger said.

The number of COVID-19 patients at UAB Hospital has doubled over the last two weeks, due to small Thanksgiving gatherings, and the hospital predicts it’ll double once more before Christmas Day, according to a UAB doctor. 

“I’d like to emphasize that we’re not in normal operations mode right now,” said Dr. Sarah Nafziger, co-chair of UAB’s Emergency Management Committee, speaking to reporters Friday. 

Nafziger said hospital administrators Friday morning met and decided to further reduce the number of elective procedures being done, and that the rush of COVID-19 patients is requiring more and more intensive care beds to be set up for other patients throughout the hospital. 

UAB’s COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased 5.5 percent each day for the last two weeks, she said, and modeling by UAB’s School of Public Health predicts that will continue into the future.

UAB was caring for a record 159 COVID-19 patients on Friday. The Huntsville Hospital System also set a new record on Friday, with 418 hospitalized coronavirus patients, a 58 percent increase over the last two weeks. 

COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide on Friday were 2,100 — down just slightly from Alabama’s record of 2,165 on Thursday, when ICU availability was at its lowest point since the start of the pandemic. There was also a record number of COVID-19 patients on ventilators.

“I’m going to ask you this. Treat everyone you know as if they have COVID-19,” Nafziger said. “Wear your mask, socially distance, wash your hands and be careful. We’ve got to stop this now before conditions get even worse.” 

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The Alabama Department of Public Health reported increases of 3,853 cases and 52 deaths Friday. The state averaged 3,511 new cases each day over the last week — a 69 percent increase from two weeks ago. 

The positivity rate in Alabama over the last week was 35 percent. Public health experts say it should be at or below 5 percent or there isn’t enough testing and cases are going undetected.

More deaths have been reported in the last two weeks than at any point since the pandemic arrived in Alabama. At least 4,086 Alabamians have died from the coronavirus since March.

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Dr. Mark Wilson, Jefferson County’s health officer, painted a grim picture and warned of what may soon come if the numbers continue to rise.

We may be approaching, in the near future, where that mother who can’t breathe, that father having a heart attack or that grandfather suffering a fall, maybe a broken hip, may not be able to receive the care that they so desperately need,” Wilson said. “This is a very real concern. In fact, it appears more likely than not.” 

Wilson asked the public to hold Christmas gatherings with only those who live in their households, avoid travel and any large gatherings. He also suggested people not sit across from a table with anyone not in their own household. 

“Holiday parties are just not a good idea right now. With our current level of disease activity, in a gathering of just 20 people there’s more than a 50 percent chance that one person in that gathering will be infectious, contagious with COVID-19,” Wilson said. 

Wilson said if even a few large events occur without the strictest precautions “we will have more sick people than we have hospital beds or nurses or doctors to care for.” 

The FDA is expected to give final approval of an emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s vaccine later on Friday, and shipments to Alabama are expected by mid-week next week, but the quantities at first will be low and allocated for health care workers most at risk. 

Wilson said it will likely be spring or early summer before vaccines will be widely available for the general public. 

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“This is where people are going to have to be patient,” Wilson said. 

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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