The positivity rate in Alabama — the percentage of COVID tests that are positive — reached a record-breaking 42.3 percent on Thursday as the more contagious omicron variant explodes across the U.S.
COVID hospitalizations in the state continue to climb as well, and new cases continue to hit record numbers as school children, largely unvaccinated, return to class this week.
While the omicron variant causes less severe illness in some, public health experts say people with other medical conditions are at greater risk of serious illness or death, and the explosive, record-setting number of new cases being seen in Alabama is driving COVID hospitalizations skyward at a rapid pace.
There were 329 COVID patients hospitalized in Alabama on Dec. 1, and by Thursday, that had increased by 343 percent, to 1,459. Alabama’s ICU beds were at 90 percent capacity on Thursday, with 18.4 percent of those taken up by COVID patients, although some hospitals didn’t report that data, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
UAB Hospital in Birmingham was caring for 21 COVID patients on Nov. 30, and on Thursday had 151 COVID patients. Emergency rooms are flooded with so many COVID-positive people that hospitals are pleading with the public to not go to emergency rooms seeking COVID tests unless ill enough to need immediate care.
Alabama added 8,580 newly confirmed COVID cases to the state’s official tally on Tuesday, and the state’s seven-day average of new daily cases reached 7,250 on Tuesday, a 1,758 percent increase from Dec. 1.
While the omicron variant may cause less severe illness in some, the sheer number of infections caused by the more contagious variant is driving hospitalizations and once again stretching hospital resources thin. Compounding the problem is the large numbers of medical workers either testing positive or having to quarantine after exposure.
“While it may be less severe on a population basis for an individual, you don’t know whether you’re going to be in the group that stays out of the hospital and stays out of the ICU, or whether you’re going to end up in the ICU,” Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, said Tuesday. “A month ago we had about 95 people in the ICU. We now have 229, so we’ve doubled the number of people in our ICU,” Williamson said. “We’ve increased by 45 percent the percentage of people on ventilators.”