The Alabama Department of Public Health’s updated COVID-19 risk indicator map Thursday showed nearly every county as being at “very high risk” due to the spread of coronavirus, bringing the total to 59 of 67 counties.
The state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations reached 646 on Thursday, a 216 percent increase from July 1, and Alabama has the fewest number of fully vaccinated people in the nation, at 39.7 percent of the eligible population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We do know that in our ICUs, we are seeing younger people intubated who are very sick or who are on the floors and are very sick,” Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, professor of infectious diseases at UAB, told CNN. “That should be a gigantic wake-up call.”
The seven-day average of new cases per day rose by 216 percent over the last two weeks — from 255 cases per day to 807 by July 19 — which reflects the Alabama Department of Public Health’s count of the number of new cases by date of infectiousness.
Public health experts have been sounding the alarm in Alabama for weeks as cases and hospitalizations shoot upward at alarming rates. ADPH’s risk indicator map was a sea of green a month ago, a sign of very low community spread. Thursday’s updated map is a sea of red.
While Alabamians 75 and older are vaccinated in greater numbers, younger people make up the largest percentage of unvaccinated. Of those 17 and under in Alabama, just 5.3 percent are vaccinated, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.
The unvaccinated make up nearly all of the COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths both in Alabama and across the country, public health officials have said.
“It’s with disappointment and sadness that I’m here to report that our COVID-19 cases have recently risen dramatically,” said Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson, speaking at a press conference Thursday. “I want the public to be aware that the risk of contracting COVID-19 has increased dramatically, especially for those who have not yet been vaccinated.”
Wilson said the county’s seven-day rolling average of new daily cases has increased 800 percent in the last month, and the county’s hospitals on Tuesday were caring for 118 adults and five children hospitalized with COVID-19, with 47 people on ventilators and 56 in the ICU. The county’s COVID-19 hospitalizations are up 310 percent from the end of June, he said.
“We urge all eligible people who have not yet been vaccinated to please get vaccinated as soon as possible,” Wilson said. “If you still have questions about vaccines, talk to your healthcare provider, or talk to someone else who’s been vaccinated and who you trust.”
Wilson is recommending that the unvaccinated wear masks when around others or when indoors, and that children who are unvaccinated wear masks in school, whether the school requires them or not.
Gov. Kay Ivey said Thursday that the unvaccinated in Alabama “are letting us down,” according to AL.com.
“The few cases of COVID are because of unvaccinated folks. Almost 100 percent of the new hospitalizations are unvaccinated folks. And the deaths certainly are occurring with unvaccinated folks,” Ivey said at the opening of a tech company in Birmingham, AL.com reported. “These folks are choosing a horrible lifestyle of self-inflicted pain. We’ve got to get folks to take the shot.”
Ivey on Monday said children should return to class in person and without any mask mandate, and she’s recently said there will be no new business closures due to COVID-19 and that she will not ask for help from federal teams of health experts, who are working in other states to boost vaccination rates and combat the fast-spreading delta variant.
Ivey in May signed into law a ban on the so-called vaccine passports. The law also prohibits people from being denied entry into universities, businesses or state agencies based upon their COVID-19 vaccination status.
The Alabama Department of Public Health this week announced a TikTok contest for those 13 to 29 meant to encourage vaccinations in which four winners will receive $250 Visa gift cards, but unlike several other states, Alabama hasn’t yet incentivized vaccinations with a lottery or larger giveaways.
The Republican governor of Missouri on Wednesday announced his state would award $10,000 to 900 people who get vaccinated, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Asked Thursday what it will take to get more people vaccinated, Ivey said: “I don’t know. You tell me.”
“Folks are supposed to have common sense. It’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks,” Ivey said. “It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down. … I’ve done all I know how to do. I can encourage you to do something, but I can’t make you take care of yourself.”
Asked about mandating masks in schools, Ivey seemed to suggest that won’t be enough.
“I want folks to get vaccinated. That’s the cure,” Ivey said, according to AL.com. “That prevents everything. Why do we want to mess around with just temporary stuff? We don’t need to just encourage people to go halfway with curing this disease.”