The sudden rise in COVID-19 infections in Alabama this week warned an expert of a “tidal wave” of cases that could overwhelm the state’s hospitals.
No hospital has yet reported a shortage of beds or staff, even if hospital treatments reached an all-time high during the week. But Dr Jeanne Marrazzo, director of the Department of Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said the sudden rise in recent days could mark the beginning of a significant spike.
“We’re in the holiday season now, and in the next two to three weeks, we could really be in a situation that threatens our ability to provide health care,” Marrazzo said. “We were very careful not to use alarming terminology. We have been very careful to always be scientifically accurate in our communications. But I think that’s the time we have to start thinking about the tidal waves, the tsunami. “
Both UAB and Huntsville Hospitals broke new records for the number of patients treated for COVID at the hospital this week. Savannah Koplon, a spokeswoman for UAB, said the hospital would still be able to accommodate all patients, but would make changes if needed to provide more resources for COVID care. In some parts of the state, intensive care units have already begun to fill up, Marrazzo said.
“If we look at our ICU bed position in Alabama, it’s not particularly optimistic,” Marrazzo said.
The numbers at the beginning of the week do not yet include many Thanksgiving cases. Marrazzo said he expects these patients to show up ten to 14 days after the holiday. In Alabama, the number of new cases has been rising for weeks and continued its upward trend on Tuesday.
If hospitals are overcrowded, health officials may need to create temporary COVID care areas, similar to on-site hospitals set up during the initial spring wave, Marrazzo said.
Hospitals are already struggling to retain staff as employees show an increasingly positive response to the virus. Alabama can ask for federal help, but can compete against many other states that also have surges.
“There may be a real need to create additional care places in three weeks,” Marrazzo said. – I hope that doesn’t happen. Are we looking at a situation that New York City experienced in March? It depends again. Much depends on what happened on Thanksgiving weekend. “
Marrazzo said Alabamians can improve the outlook for late December by avoiding gatherings, wearing masks and washing hands.
“We may not be able to influence what will happen in the next two to three weeks after Thanksgiving,” Marrazzo said. “But we can influence what happens at Christmas and after.”
People in Alabama and across the country know what they need to do to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Marrazzo said, but there are those who have simply let down their guards after months of isolation. People who miss family and friend began to take risks.
“We just have to keep presenting people with facts,” Marrazzo said. “A call to their better nature. Appeal to their community spirit and just beg them to help us get through the next few months until we really can get enough vaccinations to further protect people for the rest of the year. “