Ala. hospitals see record COVID-19 patients, brace for post-Thanksgiving wave

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - As Alabama added more than 17,000 new COVID-19 cases over the last seven days, a record 1,717 patients are being treated for the virus at hospitals across the state.

The latest reports indicate Montgomery-area hospitals are treating 131 patients. Over the weekend Baptist South admitted 15 new COVID patients over the course of 24 hours.

“We have added 200 people to our seven day average in a week, that is explosive,” stated Don Williamson, MD, executive director of the Alabama Hospital Association. “And here’s the worst part of that. None of this has anything to do with Thanksgiving. This represents uncontrolled transmission of the virus occurring prior to Thanksgiving.”

Those who contracted the virus over Thanksgiving will likely test positive later this week, putting hospitals in unchartered territory, far beyond the spike in July. Generally it takes between three to four weeks before a patient would require hospital-level care, which would put those who contracted the virus over Thanksgiving in the hospital the week of Christmas.

“I worry we are going to be well above 2000 by Christmas,” Williamson explained. “Then we have these three problems: we have Christmas shopping going on, then we then have Christmas, and we have New Years. We have nothing to break transmission in any significant measure.”

Williamson says providers will be a key shortage during this wave, not beds. He’s working with hospitals to shore up resources to weather what’s ahead.

“I’ve frankly never been as worried about the integrity of our health care system as I am now”, stated Williamson.

While travel nurses have helped relieve exhausted hospital staff throughout the pandemic, national COVID-19 spikes will further diminish this resource. Williamson said Alabama hospitals likely won’t be able to tap a host of resources as a safety net over the coming months.

“We’re going to have conversations with the health department about any additional resources that may be available,” he explained. “I know in El Paso, the military provided nurses to help with the ICUs in El Paso…We don’t want to be where North Dakota is where they’re actually having staff who have COVID, but are asymptomatic, to take care of COVID patients.”

Williamson does not believe a state mandate to suspend elective procedures would be productive. Instead he’s asking hospitals to assess the number of procedures that can wait in an effort to increase staff in needed areas.

He’s also asking the public to do their part to help the state’s health care providers by staying at home as much as possible. Experts say around 80 percent of those who are transmitting the virus don’t know they have it. Given the rate of community-based transmission, Williams says it’s highly likely anyone would encounter someone in public who has the virus or has been exposed.

“Large gatherings between now and Christmas could certainly turn to funerals in January, and we just have to avoid that,” he stated. “I am just deeply saddened by the loss of life that in many, many cases was avoidable, and that’s just sad. As a physician, any life that we could have saved that we didn’t is just, it’s a real loss.”

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