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Racing toward a new record of hospitalizations

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama is racing toward virus numbers it last saw at the peak of the pandemic, with more than 2,100 COVID-19 patients in state hospitals Monday and only 6% of intensive care unit beds available, a medical official said.

Medical officials have said low vaccination rates and the highly contagious delta variant have combined to cause an explosion of cases.

“It’s like the California wildfires. We have the perfect environment,” said Dr. Don Williamson, Alabama’s former state health officer who now heads the Alabama Hospital Association.

On Monday, there were 2,134 patients with COVID-19 in state hospitals, including 33 children, according to numbers provided by the Alabama Hospital Association.

Nearly one-third of the hospitalized virus patients, or 628, are in intensive care units and 318 patients are on ventilators. Williamson said 42% of intensive care unit beds in the state are now occupied by someone with COVID-19.

The current hospitalization number of 2,134 is lower than the little more than 3,000 recorded at the peak of the pandemic in January. However, health officials have expressed concern about the steep upward trend. A month ago, there were 247 virus patients in state hospitals, according to numbers compiled from the Alabama Department of Public Health.

“It’s filling up faster and there is no end in sight,” Williamson said.

The state had 87 intensive care unit beds available Monday, or 6%, Williamson said. By comparison, the state had 3% available at the worst part of the pandemic in January.

One hospital administrator described patients begging to be vaccinated, only to be told that it is too late.

Already full with patients being treated for usual medical ailments like heart attacks, strokes or trauma injuries, Decatur Morgan Hospital also is treating 26 COVID-19 patients, up from 15 last week, president Kelli Powers said during a news conference Monday. The ill included a 38-year-old person who is on a ventilator in intensive care, she said, and the sickest patients infected by the virus are not vaccinated.

“We have a lot of people who are on their deathbeds begging for the vaccine, but at that point it’s too late,” she said.

Health care workers are exhausted after months of combatting the illness, she said, and the best way to stem the surge is for more people to get shots.

It’s one thing to care for a patient who got a vaccine and still got COVID-19, she said. “But for someone to just not take the vaccine and then get really, really sick, I think that’s frustrating. But it’s also depressing at some point to know that someone might not live,” Powers said.

According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, the seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Alabama has nearly doubled over the past two weeks from 1,495 new cases a day on July 24 to 2,829.14 new cases a day on Saturday.

Alabama ranks fifth in the country for new cases per capita, behind Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi.

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