COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations increasing again in Alabama

Updated: Oct. 19, 2020 at 7:00 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Alabama’s COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations decreased dramatically following the implementation of a statewide mask order over the summer. Now the state’s case numbers are once again showing an uptick.

“I don’t think there’s any reason to think we’re somehow going to be spared from what looks like it’s going to be a second wave,” said Dr. Don Williamson, M.D., executive director of the Alabama Hospital Association. “I think the question is just how bad our second wave is going to be.”

While the elevated case numbers and hospitalizations aren’t comparable to the peak in late July, it’s unclear whether this increase is an accelerating phase which could lead to a second wave or an elevated plateau.

Monday, the state reported 859 new cases with a seven-day average of 1,058, which is up by more than one hundred compared to this time last month. Montgomery reported 78 new cases, the highest daily total in seven weeks. The new cases are consistent with an increase in hospitalizations.

“If you look at where we were back at the end of July to the first week in August, things are much better,” said Williamson. “At that point, we were running 1500 to 1600 patients per day (with COVID-19 in the hospital). Now we’re at about 800. The last seven-day average, almost 840. Now, that’s much better than our high point. That is worse than we were about three weeks ago. We had gotten down one day to a low of 703 patients per day in hospital and we were running on average around 750.”

Hospitalizations in the Montgomery area are also up. Local hospitals were treating 83 patients with COVID-19 on Monday. Baptist Health reported it was treating 58 patients with the virus. This week marks the first time it’s treated more than 50 COVID-19 patients in six weeks.

“I’m not aware of any specific outbreak so that makes me think this is probably a hidden community transmission,” Williams said of Montgomery’s numbers.

The cause for the increased transmission in Alabama is unclear. Williams expects it’s what he describes as COVID-19 fatigue and resuming in-person learning. That’s one of the reasons the next six to eight weeks will be critical for Alabama. During this time the temperature will drop and subsequently push more people indoors. Combine that with the start of holiday gatherings and the imminent flu season and it could quickly strap the state’s hospitals.

Williamson believes if everyone practices mitigation by properly wearing a mask, social distancing and vigorous hand-washing, the state could avoid another significant wave of the virus.

“We have every opportunity to make this a second wave,” he explained. “If we wear out masks and limit our gatherings, we have a chance to make it a higher plateau and not a massive increase. That’s really on us. Wearing mask is really never about protecting you, it’s about protecting everybody else.”

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