Alabama continues to see record numbers of new daily reported COVID cases, and on Thursday set a second straight day for a record number of children hospitalized with the virus.
Dr. David Kimberlin, co-director of UAB and Children’s of Alabama’s Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, said during a briefing on Thursday that Children’s of Alabama has seen a threefold increase in the number of kids hospitalized with COVID over the last three days.
Alabama on Wednesday set a record for child COVID hospitalizations, at 69 children, and on Thursday reached another record, with 71 hospitalized children.
“Right now, children five through 11 in Alabama, nine out of 10 of them are not vaccinated,” Kimberlin said. “That needs to change if we’re going to try to get to the other side of this.”
“Until the last week of December we had only seen 5,000 cases on a single day just a couple of times in the entire pandemic, and yet now we’re averaging more than 10,000 cases,” State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said during a separate briefing Thursday, adding that the state’s case count from Wednesday is approaching 15,000 cases.
Dr. Michael Saag, UAB’s professor of medicine and infectious diseases, said Thursday that the sheer number of infections may be driving increased hospitalizations of children.
“If your child is eligible for vaccination, get them vaccinated, please, and if they aren’t eligible, and they’re able to wear a mask, that’s the best thing we can do to help them, by far and away,” Saag said.
Alabama’s COVID hospitalizations broke 2,000 on Wednesday for the first time since Sept. 18, when the state was 15 days from the peak of the last surge, when nearly 2,900 people were hospitalized with the virus and many hospitals were limiting some critical procedures and taking over other areas to make room for the rush of COVID patients. There were 2,091 people hospitalized with COVID statewide on Thursday.
UAB Hospital in Birmingham was caring for 202 COVID patients on Thursday. The hospital on Dec. 14 had 16 COVID patients. Of those 202 patients on Thursday, 136 were unvaccinated, the hospital said.
Harris explained that the more contagious omicron variant that’s driving cases skyward might be half as deadly as the delta variant, which killed approximately 2 percent of the infected, but the number of infections means many will die.
“One percent of a really big number is a really big number,” Harris said, asking the public once more to get vaccinated and boosted as the best means of protection.
“The people who get into trouble right now with COVID, as a rule, are those who have not made the decision to get vaccinated, and by the time they come to the hospital, it’s too late,” Saag said.
“For all the people who are still hesitant about a vaccine, Look around at your neighbors who have been vaccinated and ask yourself how many of them have gone to the hospital from a side effect of the vaccine,” Saag said. “And then ask yourself the question, among your neighbors, how many who weren’t vaccinated when they got infected went to the hospital? There’s your answer about safety.”
Kimberlin said he is concerned about COVID’s impact on schools, and asked schools to do what the medical community knows works.
“My advice for schools is that they require masking inside the school,” Kimberlin said. “That’s what the Alabama Department of Public Health advises. That’s what the state health and the county health departments advise. That’s what the American Academy of Pediatrics advises. That’s what the Infectious Diseases Society of America advises. That’s what the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society advises.”