Nurse Jesse Phelps, left, works on a COVID-19 patient as a family member looks on at East Alabama Medical Center in the intensive care unit Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020, in Opelika, Ala. The medical center faces a new influx of COVID-19 patients as the pandemic intensifies. (AP Photo/Julie Bennett)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama on Monday hit a new high for the number of COVID-19 patients in state hospitals with more than 3,000 hospitalized.

The new peak comes as health officials feared a new surge of cases in the wake of the winter holidays. There were a record 3,064 people in state hospitals Monday with COVID-19, according to numbers from the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Dr. Don Williamson, the president of the Alabama Hospital Association, said the surge is likely attributable to the continued fallout from Thanksgiving, the earliest Christmas parties as well as increased community transmission.

He is concerned the caseloads will grow from people who got infected during Christmas gatherings but haven't started exhibiting serious symptoms.

“If anything, this is the very first part of the Christmas surge, and we still have a lot of the surge to deal with,” Williamson said.

“It’s rapidly deteriorating, and probably will over this week continue to deteriorate pretty rapidly as we do get the Christmas surge,” Williamson said.

Williamson said half of all intensive care beds in the state are occupied by COVID-19 patients. Across the state there were about 500 COVID-19 patients on ventilators, a new high, Williamson said.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital on Sunday reported a record 226 people in the hospital with COVID-19. East Alabama Medical Center reported 79 patients, also a record number.

East Alabama Medical Center CEO Laura Grill said 139 patients died at the hospital because of COVID-19 in 2020.

“However, I’m still blown away by how so many people have become numb — and even belligerent — to COVID-19. Our clinical team is tired, but they press on. And I know health officials are tired of pleading with people about wearing a mask, social distancing and not gathering with people outside your immediate family. This is not hard to do, but people will fight you over it,” Grill said in a statement released by the hospital.

Alabama saw a spike in cases in December, with more than 100,000 cases being reported in that month alone. Doctors have expressed concern the situation will get worse before it gets better.

Since the pandemic began, the state health department has reported more than 374,095 confirmed and probable virus cases and at least 4,878 confirmed and probable virus deaths in Alabama.

While the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms in most people, it can be deadly for the elderly and people with other, serious health problems.

State Health Officer Scott Harris in a New Year’s message to the public urged people to continue to take precautions and to take the vaccine when it is available to them. Harris says statements likening COVID-19 mortality to the flu, or that 2020 deaths will be about the same, are “far from the truth.”

He said fewer than 1,300 people in Alabama succumbed to flu and pneumonia combined in 2018, and “COVID-19 has resulted in more than triple the mortality in 2020.”

“Every one of those deaths is someone’s fellow citizen, friend, or family member,” Harris wrote.

The state last month began to distribute the first doses of vaccine to health workers and nursing home residents. Harris said they hope to make the vaccine available to people over 75 and to certain essential workers later this month. The state has not yet announced any details for vaccinating people in those groups.

He said people who do not have elevated risk because of their age and occupation likely will not be able to get the vaccine until spring or summer.

As of Saturday, the state had administered 42,810 doses of the 226,250 vaccine doses it had received, according to the state health department.


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