Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said in a briefing Friday that for the first time since the state began keeping records that recorded deaths exceeded births.
64,714 deaths is the preliminary number of deaths in 2020, compared to 57,641 births recorded in 2020. Harris said it takes about a year before the state receives all its data on deaths from a previous year, and will update the numbers accordingly.
“That’s never happened before, nor has it ever even been close before,” Harris said. “[During] World War Two, or during the flu pandemic of 1918, or World War One, we’ve never had a time where deaths exceeded births until this past year, and it’s certainly possible that could happen this year as well if we continue in the same rate that we’re seeing now.”
Alabama continues to see daily deaths in the double digits due to COVID-19, with Harris indicating that the number of deaths in Alabama has yet to decline, and numbers of deaths over the past several days range from 40, 50, to even 60 a day.
“We are actually going to add to our totals today 192 deaths since yesterday. Those did not all occur yesterday. Some of those are several days old, or some may even be a few weeks old that we’re just now able to confirm,” Harris said. “But the numbers of deaths, unfortunately, have not declined at this point.”
Harris mentioned that the state is seeing a declining number of hospitalizations, and suggested the decrease was partly due to the number of deaths over this previous week.
“We still have more patients requiring critical care than we have critical care beds,” Harris said. “That number was actually down to 11 more yesterday, that’s certainly better than it’s been, but it still means we don’t have any available ICU beds in Alabama.”
According to the Alabama Hospital Association, on Thursday, there were 1,580 ICU patients, but state hospitals had just 1,569 staffed ICU beds, meaning some had to wait for that critical care elsewhere in hospitals. Of those in ICUs on Thursday, 46 percent had COVID-19.
There were 2,223 hospitalized with COVID in Alabama on Thursday, 53 of them children and 17 pregnant women. Last year, seven pregnant women died from COVID-19, Harris said.
Among hospitalized children with COVID on Thursday, 17 were the ICUs, and five were on ventilators. Among the hospitalized pregnant women with COVID, two were being treated in ICUs.
Of those hospitalized statewide with COVID on Thursday, 84 percent were unvaccinated.
Harris said a total of 6,382 new cases among students and staff in K-12 schools were reported this week, down from 8,428 new cases reported by K-12 schools the previous week. Only two systems failed to report cases data to the Alabama Department of Public Health.
Harris cases among school-aged children this year are more than 300 percent higher than at the same time last year.
Harris said Alabamians “continue to do a pretty good job” with vaccinations.
“We’re pleased that we’re improving,” Harris said. “We have a long way to go.”
Alabama has the fourth-lowest percentage of fully-vaccinated residents in the nation, at 41 percent, behind West Virginia, Wyoming and Idaho, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which puts the percentage of Alabamians who had received at least one dose at 51.7 percent.
The FDA Advisory Committee later on Friday voted against allowing Pfizer booster shots for most vaccinated Americans six months after their second shot, but recommended that those 65 and older and other vulnerable people get the booster shots. The state health office was to closely following the meeting, Harris said earlier in the day.
“Frankly, at this point, I don’t think we know what they’re going to say,” Harris said before the committee’s decision. “They probably will make some recommendations for some booster doses in certain populations. I don’t think they’re likely to say booster doses for everyone, but I don’t know that. So we have to see what they vote.”
It will take several steps, if the vaccine boosters are allowed for general use, before finial guidelines from the CDC are released for the state health office to use, Harris mentioned.
“I want to stress, probably, that final guidance is only going to apply to the Pfizer vaccine and booster doses that seems to be the only thing that we’re going to hear right away,” Harris said.
On Monday of this week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced it would no longer allow state medical providers to order products used in monoclonal antibody treatment, due to the high demand for the treatment products, requiring providers to instead go through their state health office.
HHS will allocate the number of monoclonal antibody treatment doses to the Alabama state health office based on reported cases and hospitalization numbers. According to Harris, if 70 percent of monoclonal antibody treatment doses shipped to Alabama are not used, the total number will be decreased.
“We absolutely were not expecting this change in how the drug was distributed,” Harris said, adding that it took all states in the country off guard.
Healthcare providers, through the ADPH plan, will be allowed to request the number of monoclonal antibody treatment doses they want shipped to their facilities. ADPH will receive the orders each Tuesday, and begin shipping to providers that night or the following day, according to Harris.
“Again, if our state as a whole is not using at least 70 percent of the monoclonal that are shipped here that our, our allocation is going to be decreased,” Harris said. “So it’s really important for providers to order just what they think they need, but also to enter in what they’re actually using, so that we can continue to get that valuable commodity for our state.”
One in every 390 Alabama residents died of COVID-19 in 2020, with one in 500 Americans dead because of COVID-19 in 2020.
The total number of COVID-19 cases in Alabama over the last week is 14,014, as of Sept. 16.