Alabama is seeing an increase in the number of people dying from COVID-19, an infectious disease expert at UAB said Tuesday, and the rise is the result of the growing number cases and hospitalizations following Thanksgiving gatherings, he said.
Dr. Michael Saag, an infectious disease expert and professor and associate dean at UAB’s School of Medicine, explained to reporters on Tuesday that Alabama’s rising death count is a product of the extent of widespread infection, and expressed concern that if the public doesn’t avoid risky behaviors over Christmas and New Years, cases could double in the weeks afterward.
“If we look at the actual rate of death, it’s lower now than it was, say back in March, April, May,” Saag said. “And the reason for that is we know more about how to manage patients, but still, those death rates become overwhelmed in terms of the number of patients we’re seeing.”
The state averaged 1,544 COVID-19 hospitalizations over the week ending Aug. 3, which was the peak of hospitalizations during the summer surge. Over the last week, Alabama has averaged 2,441 COVID patients in hospitals daily, a 58 percent increase from that summer peak. On Wednesday, the state recorded 2,535 hospitalizations, down by just two from the record high set Tuesday.
The Alabama Department of Public Health reported 4,758 new cases on Wednesday, which was the second-highest single-day increase when taking into account backlogged test results that inflated the count on Dec. 18. The record high was set on Tuesday at 4,979 cases. There have been 54,382 new cases in Alabama reported over the last 14 days — more than during any other two week period.
Saag said it can take a month or more after a person becomes infected to die from the disease, and he expects to see increasing deaths as a result of gatherings over Christmas and New year.
“What I’m expecting to see in Jefferson County and throughout our state over the next three weeks, based on this Thanksgiving surge, we’re going to see the number of deaths increase pretty substantially,” Saag said, noting that in the U.S. today approximately 3,000 people die from COVID-19 each day.
“That’s equal to a 9/11 every single day. Every day, we have the same number of people dying from COVID as we had on that one day back in September 2001,” Saag said. “That, to me, is unacceptable, and we have it in our power to bring it under control by doing the things we know to do in terms of avoiding crowds, wearing masks, every time we go out and making sure that we’re keeping a distance from other people while we are out.”
ADPH on Wednesday reported a record-high increase of 135 to the state’s death toll. ADPH now lists the date on which an individual dies, and 47 of Wednesday’s increase of 135 died during the month of December.
Seven deaths were dated from November, 36 from October, 16 from September, and 17 deaths reach back to May 1. Twelve of the 135 deaths reported Wednesday have not been assigned a date of death in ADPH’s publicly available data.
It takes ADPH time to review medical records and to conduct interviews to confirm a death was caused by COVID-19, so the department’s data for deaths by date after Dec. 9 should be considered largely incomplete. Deaths that occurred from that date forward will likely be reported in the coming weeks and months.
While data for dates two weeks and older may be largely complete, more deaths could still be confirmed for those dates, as is the case with deaths still being confirmed from as long ago as May.
Even with the data being incomplete, thus far, Dec. 8 has been the second deadliest day in Alabama, with 32 confirmed COVID-19 deaths occurring that day. That’s just four shy of the record 36 set on July 31, and the seven-day day average of deaths on Dec. 12 has matched the high during the summer surge.
The second week of December is just one death shy of being the deadliest seven-day period in Alabama so far. As not-yet-reported deaths from the last few weeks are confirmed, December is likely to become the deadliest month.