MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - As the COVID-19 virus spreads, Alabama hospitals are reaching a critical make-or-break point. The number of pandemic-related hospitalizations has nearly doubled over the last two weeks.
On Thursday, Alabama hit a new watermark for the fifth consecutive day as 1,125 patients with the virus required hospital care.
“[Wednesday] was a really, really bad day,” stated Dr. Don Williamson, M.D., Executive Director of the Alabama Hospital Association. “We set a new record in terms of number of people in the hospital. We set a new record in terms of number of people who were admitted yesterday. We had the fewest number of ICU beds available statewide that we’ve ever had. We had the fewest number of general medicine surgery beds for adults that we’ve had since it started.”
Williamson says the state has a narrow window to bring down the number of cases before it potentially crashes the state’s healthcare system.
“I’m trying to prepare people for what’s coming,” he stated.
The state’s ICU availability is 12 percent, which is around 200 beds. Currently hospitals are converting other floors to accommodate critical patients.
“What I don’t want is for people to be surprised,” Williamson explained. “Right now, we’re managing it. But you know, with 200 ICU beds, with 1,100 plus patients with COVID in the hospital, with 1,700 adult medicine beds, we can cope with where we are now. What we can’t cope with is the sustained increase in the number of patients.”
Realistically, that increase is likely coming in a little more than a week when those who contracted the virus over the Independence Day weekend begin to require hospital care.
Williamson says action must be taken now to decrease the numbers by the end of July and before the start of school and flu season.
“Unfortunately, we as citizens control whether that’s going to happen or not, and right now we’re not doing a very good job of making that happen,” he stated. “I want folks to understand the magnitude of this problem. I mean, we’ve already had over 1,000 people die.”
Williamson says if the virus isn’t controlled by the end of the month, it will likely have an impact on patients without COVID-19 who have a health emergency.
”That means if you have a heart attack, instead of being served locally, you may end up being referred to someplace you may not normally go,” he said.
The Alabama Hospital Association supports a statewide mask order. But while Gov. Kay Ivey encourages citizens to wear a mask, she’s leaving that decision to local governments.
“Each area is unique and is working with their own set of data specific to their town or city, which is why the governor supports the decisions of local governments or businesses to require masks to be worn,” the governor’s office said in an email Thursday.
That's why Williamson is imploring all Alabamians to commit to wearing a mask and practice social distancing.
“We just think it’s time for all of us to take a hard look at our behavior,” he stated. “And so you know wearing a mask may be uncomfortable, but it protects my neighbor. It’s not about liberty, it’s about life.”