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Alabama ICU beds almost full as COVID hospitalizations continue rapid rise

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Critical care units in Alabama hospitals are nearing capacity due to increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients, but recent deaths from the virus still remain relatively low.

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said Friday that about 93% of Alabama’s ICU beds are occupied as the more transmissible COVID-19 delta variant continues to spread in the state and vaccination rates remain low.

As of Saturday there were 1,968 Alabamians hospitalized from COVID-19, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. A month ago, just 235 people were hospitalized. Most of those patients are unvaccinated, Harris said.

Alabama Hospital Association President and CEO Don Williamson told Alabama Daily News the lack of ICU beds is a concern.

“As patients with COVID increasingly fill the ICU beds of Alabama’s hospitals, the shortage of ICU beds impacts all of our citizens,” Williamson said. “An ICU bed needed by a COVID patient is one that is not available for a stroke, heart attack or automobile accident. The rapid escalation of COVID threatens our entire health care system.”

The alarming trends may be promoting more people to get vaccines. On Friday, more than 16,000 doses were administered, the highest single-day count since mid-May when vaccines became universally available.

“We’re encouraged by these increasing numbers of people getting vaccinated but it’s going to take a few weeks before that really helps us,” Harris said.

The most doses administered in a single day in Alabama was back at the beginning of April with more than 45,000 shots given.

Since most people have to take a two-dose vaccine sequence the typical amount of time it takes for a person to reach full immunity is around five to six weeks. That’s why Harris said it’s important for people to get vaccinated as soon as they can.

The vaccines continue to prove their effectiveness at stopping serious illness against the disease. So far there have been 6,427 breakthrough infections with people who have been fully vaccinated, which is  about 0.4% of cases in Alabama.

In Alabama, 26 fully vaccinated people have died from the virus. In all, there have been more than 11,600 COVID deaths in the state.

Harris also stressed the importance of getting vaccinated not only to protect against serious illness but also to help prevent the spread of the delta variant and hopefully stop the spreading of any new variants that are likely to occur.

“We’re probably going to get another variant someday and I hope it’s later down the road than sooner. I can imagine a situation where our vaccines may not be as effective,” Harris said. “That’s the thing we all dread could happen someday, so instead of us getting to that point let’s try and stop disease transmission now and get vaccinated as soon as you can.”

New reports released recently show that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines protect against the virus well into the first six months, but vaccine executives say they anticipate that booster shots may be needed to combat the delta variant.

The Biden administration is considering recommending that booster shots be given to vulnerable populations soon but an official recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not yet come, the New York Times reported.

Harris also emphasized his department’s recommendation to schools going back to in-person learning to have universal masking no matter what a person’s vaccination status is. He said he understands many people have passionate feelings about masking but said he believes it’s the best way to keep those vulnerable children and adults in schools safe.

“We have seen what it’s like to do school virtually for a year and it was not a great experiment in most cases,” Harris said. “We really want to keep kids in school for face-to-face instruction for not just academic reasons but for all the social reasons and mental health reasons and even nutritional reasons.  So this is our best advice to keep kids in school.”

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