MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - As we ring in the new year and look forward to a fresh start in 2021, Alabama hospitals continue to be faced with the harsh reality that is 2020.
Health experts warn that celebrating New Year’s Eve the wrong way could push the state’s hospitals to the brink.
Wednesday the Alabama Department of Public Health posted one of it’s highest single-day COVID-19 increases to date, adding more than 5,000 cases in one day.
“We are having new cases everywhere. This is widespread community transmission, and this is the worst we have ever seen it,” said State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris.
Alabama currently ranks third in COVID-19 hospitalizations per capita, and ranks sixth among states nationwide this week in COVID-19 cases, according to UAB health officials.
Hospitalizations in the state have jumped to 2,813, the highest reported since the pandemic began. The state added 37 deaths Wednesday, bringing the total to 4,774.
“We have hospitalization numbers that are about 90% higher than we saw back in July and August when we were struggling,” Harris said. “So it’s just not a very good situation right now.”
As of Wednesday, Baptist Health was treating a combined 163 COVID-19 positive inpatients across it’s three campuses, just shy of a record set Sunday of 167. Jackson Hospital was treating 64 COVID positive inpatients as of Tuesday.
Harris said a number that has stayed consistent throughout the pandemic has been that about 10 percent of the state’s daily case increases end up needing hospitalization.
“So when we get, for example, 4,000 new cases today, in about three weeks 400 of those people are going to be in the hospital,” Harris said. “And people don’t go in for one day, people go in and stay for days at a time typically.”
Harris said numbers have continued to go up since Thanksgiving and that what hospitals are dealing with now still does not even account for Christmas and New Year’s.
“This is as difficult as a time as we have seen in the past 11 months,” Harris said. “This is exactly what we feared as we entered into the holiday season. It’s a little soon to know exactly what the effects of Christmas were, but we are very concerned about what January is going to look like.”
If people do not take control now, Harris fears the system will be overrun.
“In some ways hospitals are better equipped to handle higher numbers then they were even back in the summer, but they can’t do this forever,” Harris said.
One big concern is having enough trained healthcare professionals to care for patients.
“Finding people who can actually work, who are trained healthcare professionals, there is just a limit on that,” Harris said. “Right now every state in the country is having a shortage.”
Harris said the best way to celebrate the new year is at home with people you live with or virtually with family and friends.
“Please stay home,” Harris said. “Don’t get out and try to have a year’s worth of fun on one night, particularly with our numbers as bad as they are. And we are so close to having a solution on the horizon with a rollout of the vaccine.”
Harris said while this year may look different, by this time next year in 2021 we will be able to return to normal, but until then it is up to us to make sure our hospitals are not overwhelmed.
“You can prevent this yourself with your own behavior. If you don’t want to see your hospitals in crisis please think about that before you make a decision to get out in a big group of strangers where you put yourself and others at risk,” Harris said.
If you are celebrating with people outside your household, the CDC says to wear a mask, keep a 6 foot distance, avoid crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces, wash your hands, and stay home if you are sick.
The CDC website also lists some recommendations for hosting and attending a New Year’s celebration.
Is there any way to celebrate New Year’s safely?
The CDC has a long list of ideas on how to celebrate New Year’s safely. Among them:
- Have a virtual party with friends and celebrate the countdown together.
- Plan a neighborhood countdown to midnight. Neighbors can go outside and cheer from the front of their homes.
- Pick up a special meal from a local restaurant to share with your household.
- Watch celebrations on TV or online.
- Call, text or leave voicemails for friends and family wishing them a happy new year