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Alabama ICUs at 95 percent capacity, hospitalizations double in two weeks

In the city of Dothan and in Baldwin County, there were more patients in ICUs than those hospitals had formal ICU beds for.

Health care machinery in a COVID-19 unit at UAB Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. (VIA UAB)

Alabama hospital ICUs were at 95 percent capacity on Wednesday. COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state doubled over the last two weeks, and more children are becoming infected and hospitalized with the virus, Alabama physicians say. 

There were no available ICU beds Wednesday afternoon in hard-hit Montgomery and Mobile counties, Alabama Hospital Association President Dr. Don Williamson told APR.

In the city of Dothan and in Baldwin County, there were more patients in ICUs than those hospitals had formal ICU beds for, meaning other areas of those hospitals were being converted into ICUs to meet the surging demand. 

“We’ve hit the wall, and I think it’s just going to get worse from here,” Williamson said. 

Of those ICU beds filled up on Wednesday, 43 percent were COVID-19 patients, Williamson said. Such a high number is already putting a strain on state hospitals’ ability to care for other patients, he said. 

A rural hospital that would have normally sent a patient to a nearby urban hospital had to instead send a patient recently out of state to get them the care they needed because the urban hospital had no room, Williamson said. 

“And it’s happening the other way. We’ve got out-of-state folks who are trying to send patients to us,” Williamson said. “What’s happening is the system is beginning to lock down.” 

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Alabama’s COVID-19 hospitalizations on Wednesday of 2,371 was a doubling of hospitalizations from two weeks ago and a 595 percent increase from a month ago. At this rapid pace of increasing hospitalizations, Alabama could soon eclipse the previous high of 3,084 set on Jan. 11, when state hospital resources were extremely stressed.  

UAB Hospital in Birmingham had 131 COVID-19 inpatients on Wednesday, which was the highest number since Jan. 24 and a 125 percent increase from two weeks ago. 

Among those hospitalized with COVID-19 on Wednesday, 39 were children,  On Tuesday there were 33, and there were nine children hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide on July 15.

Children’s of Alabama was caring for 18 of those children hospitalized with COVID-19 on Wednesday, five of whom were in the ICU, a hospital spokesperson told APR in a message.  The hospital declined to say whether any of those five were on ventilators due to a policy in which such information is not disclosed when the number of children is five or less, citing federal privacy laws. 

What’s worrying Williamson more than even the ICU capacity is the staffing needed to care for the growing number who need it. 

“What we’ll end up having to do, if we get to that point, we’re going to have to get federal assistance. We’ll have to have staff from outside of Alabama to help,” Williamson said, noting that in Louisiana a federal Disaster Medical Assistance Team arrived at Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge last week to help with surging COVID-19 patients there. 

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Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, director of infectious diseases at UAB, told MSNBC’s Brian Williams on Tuesday that the delta variant is driving an uptick in the hospitalization of children with COVID-19. 

“About a third of them appear to be intubated or in the ICU. When you’re seeing kids under two years old getting a respiratory virus that is causing them to be intubated, that should really wake people up and think very hard about whether they should be wearing masks. Whether they should get vaccinated,” Marrazzo said. 

“I really, really can’t emphasize enough. Masks right now are the only way we’re going to get out of this,” Marrazzo said. ”If you get vaccinated tomorrow you are not going to escape delta. You need two doses of both of those mRNA vaccines and you need some time to make antibodies, so right now, people really have to step up and mask up.” 

Dr. Charles Wayne Melvin, a pediatrician at Tennessee Valley Pediatric Associates in Sheffield, in a Facebook post Tuesday, first reported by AL.com, described himself as a conservative and described his practice as covered up by children with COVID-19. 

“Our practice is drowning in Covid right now. We have had hundreds of positive kids in the past 2 weeks and they are much sicker this time around with the Delta variant,”  Melvin said. “We have 2 week olds with Covid with sky high fevers. We have  teenagers with post Covid cardiac changes.  We have pregnant women in the Covid unit that are literally fighting for their lives and their babies’ lives. We have recently delivered babies born prematurely due to Covid. We have new mommas in the Covid unit separated from their newborns.”

“Folks, this is real and it is a nightmare. At TVP, we are living this every day. and I hate it. As a physician, I have dedicated my life to caring for children and this is really hard to watch,” Melvin continued. “And for those of you who think masks don’t work my physician brother-in-law has a saying: Next time you have surgery tell your surgeon he (she) doesn’t have to wear a mask!”

UAB’s Dr. David Kimberlin, co-director of UAB and Children’s of Alabama’s Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and a renowned expert on pediatric infectious diseases, on Tuesday pleaded with the public to mask up in schools and get vaccinated as the delta variant continues to sicken more and more children and adults. 

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“And it’s because I see what’s coming. What is really hitting us already, and what is about to just absolutely slam us,” Kimberlin said. 

Alabama has no statewide mask mandate, for the public or in schools. Gov. Kay Ivey, who is running for re-election, has said she has no plans to issue any further mask mandates or business restrictions. 

Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris has the power to issue such a statewide mandate himself and without Ivey agreeing to do so, according to state law, but Alabama Department of Public Health spokesman Ryan Easterling told APR in a message Wednesday that “Dr. Harris plans to continue working with the Governor to address public health needs in Alabama.”

Harris, in numerous briefings and statements, has encouraged those 12 and older to get vaccinated and for school systems to require masks. 

“Our view in public health is that universal masking is the best way to protect people,” Harris said last week. “Not only does it prevent transmission of disease. It’s also a great way to keep kids in school who’ve been exposed to a case so that they don’t have to be quarantined.” 

Alabama is the least fully vaccinated state in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Alabama Department of Public Health, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society and a group of Alabama pediatricians all recommend universal masking in schools despite vaccination status.

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Written By

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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