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UAB doctor warns ‘tidal wave’ of COVID cases could soon overwhelm Alabama hospitals – al.com


Dec 2, 2020

A sharp increase in COVID-19 infections in Alabama this week has one expert warning of a “tidal wave” of cases that could overwhelm the state’s hospitals.

No hospitals have yet reported any shortages of beds or staff, even as hospitalizations hit all-time highs this week. But Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, director of the division of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said the sharp increase in recent days could be the beginning of a substantial spike.

“Now we’re going into the holiday season and we could really be in a situation in the next two to three weeks that compromises our ability to provide health care,” Marrazzo said. “We’ve been very cautious not to use alarmist terminology. We’ve been very cautious to always try to be scientifically accurate in our communications. But I think this is a time we need to start thinking about tidal wave imagery, tsunami imagery.”

UAB and Huntsville Hospitals both set new records this week for the number of patients receiving treatment for COVID in the hospital. Savannah Koplon, a spokeswoman for UAB, said the hospital is still able to accommodate all patients, but would make changes to provide more resources for COVID care if necessary. Intensive care units in some parts of the state have already begun to fill, Marrazzo said.

“If you look at our ICU bed situation right now in Alabama, it is not particularly optimistic,” Marrazzo said.

The numbers from earlier this week don’t yet include many cases from Thanksgiving. Marrazzo said she expects those patients to appear ten to 14 days after the holiday. The number of new cases in Alabama has been increasing for weeks and continued its upward trend Tuesday.

If hospitals become overwhelmed, health officials may need to set up temporary COVID care areas similar to the field hospitals erected during the initial spring surge, Marrazzo said.

Hospitals are already struggling to maintain staffing as employees increasingly test positive for the virus. Alabama could seek federal assistance but could be competing against many other states also experiencing surges.

“You could conceivably see a true need for setting up ancillary care places in three weeks,” Marrazzo said. “I hope that doesn’t happen. Are we looking at the kind of situation that New York City experienced in March? Again, it depends. A lot depends on what happened over Thanksgiving weekend.”

Marrazzo said Alabamians could improve the outlook for late December by avoiding gatherings, wearing masks and washing hands.

“It may not look like we can affect what’s going to happen in the next two or three weeks post-Thanksgiving,” Marrazzo said. “But we can impact what happens around Christmastime and after that.”

People in Alabama and around the country know what they need to do to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Marrazzo said, but some have simply let down their guard after months of isolation. People who miss family and friend have begun taking risks.

“We just have to continue to present people with facts,” Marrazzo said. “Appeal to their better nature. Appeal to their community spirit and just beg them to help us get through the next couple of months until we can really get enough vaccine out there to help protect people for the rest of the year.”


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