Alabama’s COVID-19 Death Toll Passes 7,000, But Hospitalizations Are Decreasing

The number of deaths linked to the COVID-19 virus in Alabama has passed 7,000, with an increase of almost a thousand in the past seven days.

In Birmingham Watch’s periodic analysis of the data provided by the Alabama Department of Public Health, the state death toll stands at 7,340 as of Thursday morning. That compares to 6,379 deaths reported on Jan. 21, an increase of 961 deaths, or 15%, in a week’s time.

While those numbers are concerning at first glance, it’s important to note that many death reports date back as far as November. It’s part of an ongoing effort by ADPH to sift through old reports to determine which were caused in whole or part by COVID. Additionally, even current death reports take several days to work through the system, unlike data for new positive cases of the virus, which are usually updated within 24 hours.

The effect that the review is having on the death numbers can be seen in daily tallies released by the department, which fall to almost nothing on weekends when personnel involved in the review are not on the job. Within the past seven days, the five weekday reports numbered as low as 107 deaths and as high as 276, while only five deaths were reported on the weekend. The addition of backlogged reports also makes calculating a reliable 7-day or 14-day moving average nearly impossible.

Thursday’s report showed 168 additional deaths across Alabama.

The ADPH is now providing dates of deaths in its reporting. In that report, there were 215 deaths over the 14-day period from Jan. 13 to Jan. 26, an average of 15.26 per day. Keep in mind that death reports on all of those days will continue to be adjusted, usually upward, as the review process uncovers more deaths on those dates. The department also reports the average lag time of death reports at 33.39 days — on average, death reports are taking more than a month after the date of death to reach the state’s health statistics agency. That trend is improving, though, as on Jan. 15 the 7-day moving average lag time was 123 days, or four months.

Meanwhile, there’s better news in one category: the number hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients has fallen steadily in the past two weeks. The latest statewide count shows 2,122 beds occupied on Tuesday, the latest total available. That’s a drop of 31% from the record high of 3,084 reported on Jan. 11, during a time when some hospitals were having to take crucial steps to make more beds available for COVID patients. The current total is also lower then the 7-day moving average, which indicates a trend that continues to improve.

The number of daily new COVID cases increased in the previous week but is still well below the peaks reached earlier in January. The 7-day moving daily average stands at 2,885.43 as of Thursday, up from 2,564.71 on Jan. 21 but one-third lower than the record set on Jan. 10. The 14-day average continues on a downward slope and is also down by about a third since Jan. 10.

Thursday’s new daily case count was 2,928, which includes three new cases of the recently discovered “UK variant,” a mutation of the virus that appears to spread more quickly than the original. First seen in the United Kingdom, the new strain has spread into 25 states in the U.S.

Positivity rates continue to stay on the high side, with the 7-day statewide moving average standing at 24.8% for confirmed cases only, and 31.5% for both confirmed and probable cases. The 14-day moving average stands at 16.4% for all case types, indicating a slight downward trend. Fayette County in west Alabama had the highest rate at 26.88%.

In Jefferson County, the 14-day positivity rate stands at 13.38% for all cases. The county had 2,039 new cases in the past seven days and 93 deaths.

Birmingham Watch compiles its analyses based on data published by the ADPH daily on its COVID-19 home page.

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