Post by Donna Cope from Alabama NewsCenter
The holidays are supposed to be the happiest time of year but, for many across our state and nation, this season of joy is fraught with concerns about COVID-19.
And rightfully so. On Dec. 16, the Alabama Department of Public Health reported that, in the past two weeks, there have been about 50,000 new cases of coronavirus. To date, total hospitalizations statewide due to COVID-19 have reached 30,000, and some 4,200 residents have died since the start of the pandemic.
Since March, more than 2 million Alabama residents have been tested for COVID and/or antibodies. Good news came to the state Dec. 15 when UAB Medical Center received nearly 11,000 doses of the Pfizer SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. UAB has begun the critical task of vaccinating front-line defenders – its employees and those of other hospitals – against the disease.
Birmingham-area hospitals send open letter to residents
UAB Medical Center and other Birmingham-area hospitals applauded Gov. Kay Ivey’s recent extension of the statewide mask order in an open letter to Alabama residents. The hospitals encourage them to continue being vigilant and to take every precaution to minimize the spread of COVID.
In their letter, the hospitals noted the COVID surge this summer stressed the health care system. Even more concerning is the recent drastic increase in COVID cases, hospitalizations and death. UAB pointed out that more than 600 COVID patients are in care at area hospitals, a 50% increase over the maximum number of patients seen this summer.
Because of this increase in cases, hospital ICUs are filling to capacity, forcing hospital units to convert to COVID units, while also diverting resources to care for COVID patients. As more COVID patients fill the beds, extreme pressure is being placed on hospitals as they additionally care for patients with other healthcare needs.
Already stressed with spacing and staffing challenges, the Birmingham-area hospitals reported that nearly 500 hospital staff members can’t work because of COVID-related issues. Staff who can work face longer hours and heavier workloads.
UAB epidemiologist Dr. Suzanne Judd recently emphasized the importance of taking precautions during the holiday season. Judd pointed out that “behaviors in the community during the holidays could lead to increased spread of COVID.” Indeed, hospitals are starting to see the effects of the Thanksgiving holiday and are concerned about the coming holidays.
“Gatherings greater than 10 people pose a substantial risk in terms of one of the people being COVID-positive and not knowing,” Judd cautioned in November. “Combine that with eating and drinking and socializing, laughing and singing, just as something that could lead to substantial COVID transmission, which then again sets us up for the holidays that come in December when people get back together again in those indoor spaces.”
Calling for all Alabamians to help in the battle against COVID-19, the medical community has urged residents to forgo large family gatherings at this time.
“Please consider avoiding travel and not mixing households,” the Birmingham-area hospitals wrote. “Even small gatherings of more than one household have proven deadly. Grab takeout to support a local business and eat at home with your immediate family. Set up virtual group gatherings to celebrate this holiday season so we can gather with all of our loved ones next year and not potentially lose them now to this virus.”
Community can help in the pandemic fight
UAB Medical Center continues to remind the public about easy things everyone can do to prevent COVID’s spread. In turn, the medical community can help keep vital businesses operating and the economy strong.
Take these steps to help prevent illness and to protect Alabama hospitals’ resources for caring for patients:
- Maintain a 6-foot distance from others.
- Make sure that you wear a mask and that others around you wear a mask.
- Wash your hands and keep hand sanitizer available.
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