Local and state health officials say they’re concerned with the growing number of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across Alabama and in Mobile County specifically.
The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) declared Mobile County as an area of “very high risk” with regard to community spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 disease. These designations give an indication of how likely one person in the general public is to spread the virus to another — something that’s calculated separately from outbreaks in facilities like nursing homes.
According to ADPH, the calculations for each county’s risk of spreading COVID-19 in the community is based on the number of new cases reported each day, and local health officials say those numbers have been trending upward like they haven’t since the pandemic began.
“We’re just seeing an unprecedented rise in the number of new cases,” Dr. Rendi Murphree, an epidemiologist with the Mobile County Health Department (MCHD), said Monday. “For those of you who have asked if we are in the second wave, we aren’t even close to the peak of the first wave. It’s just not looking like things are getting any better right now.”
According to the latest data released by ADPH, 4,129 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Mobile County since March 19, including more than a 1,000 over the last two weeks alone. An increase is also expected over the next few days as state and privately owned labs move through a backlog of test results after most were closed for the Fourth of July holiday last week.
The daily average of new cases reported in Mobile County had been hovering around the 30 to 40 mark only a few weeks ago, but according to Murphree, it has nearly doubled to an average of 75 to 80 over the past 14 days — including multiple days with more than 100 new cases.
Recently, national political figures — including President Donald Trump — have linked the rising number of cases in the United States to the increased prevalence of testing. While that may be a contributing factor in other areas, Murphree said testing in Alabama and in Mobile County has actually declined over the past few weeks while new cases have continued to trend upward.
Statewide, the percentage of positive cases among news tests administered has risen to from 10 percent to 12 percent over the last month. In Mobile County last week, the percentage of positive results hit 20 percent for the first time since the early stages of the pandemic in mid-April.
The number of hospitalizations attributed to COVID-19 has also been going up, according to data released by ADPH and MCHD earlier this week. On Monday, more than 1,000 Alabamians were reported hospitalized with COVID-19 for the first time since the pandemic began.
According to MCHD, 303 people have been hospitalized in Mobile County since March.
Murphree said Monday the average number of hospitalizations on any given day has trended up from around 50 only a couple of weeks ago to something approaching 90 in the last seven days — a shift from a couple of weeks ago when Murphree reported hospitalizations trending downward.
It should be noted the exact number of hospitalizations is hard to determine because neither MCHD nor ADPH will release information about the capacity of local hospitals even though hospitals are supposed to report those numbers daily to the Alabama Incident Management System (AIMS). So far, Springhill Medical Center is the only local facility that has disclosed any of that information publicly.
But despite hospitalizations going up, Alabama officials have not expressed grave concern about running out of critical resources like ICU beds or respiratory ventilators that are vital when treating the deadliest cases of COVID-19. Lagniappe recently reached out to the Alabama Hospital Association (AlaHA) seeking information about statewide resources, but has yet to receive a response.
However, AlaHA President Dr. Don Williamson told Alabama Political Reporter (APR) on Monday, despite seeing a record high number of hospitalizations, 893 (57 percent) of Alabama’s supply of ventilators were still available along with 309 (18.5 percent) of its 1,669 ICU beds.
When asked for a possible explanation, Williamson told APR younger patients are being admitted to hospitals for COVID-19 who may not become sick enough to require more of the hospitals’ advanced resources. He also suggested doctors have gotten better at caring for those patients.
In Mobile County, Murphree has cited similar findings as a possible explanation for why the number of hospitalizations has increased but the number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 have slowed. As of July 6, 138 deaths have been attributed to the disease — only two of which were reported over the last week.
According to Murphree, the majority of new cases have been reported among people between the ages of 25 to 64, which she said is likely the result of community spread among younger people who are venturing out in public, and outbreaks in local long-term care facilities being brought under control.
Like Williamson, Murphree has previously credited the care provided by local health care workers with the reduced number of deaths in Mobile County. She said the antiviral medication Remdesivir distributed by the federal government has had a “very positive effect” on local COVID-19 patients.
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