Average COVID-19 Cases, Hospitalizations and Deaths All Rise in Weekly Data Analysis

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, head of the UAB School of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases, is not a person given to hyperbole.

But as the numbers in the coronavirus pandemic rise at an alarming rate, Marrazzo resorted to terminology of a level she hasn’t used before. Speaking to reporters in a teleconference Tuesday morning, she said the situation is approaching levels that evoke “tidal wave imagery.”

The weekly BirminghamWatch analysis of the state’s COVID-19 data shows all of the major indicators of the disease continuing to rise sharply, giving a foundation for Marrazzo’s heightened concerns. Moving averages of daily positive cases are at record high levels, while the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients also has reached its highest level. The death toll also is rising rapidly.

The cumulative number of positive cases since the beginning of the pandemic in March passed the quarter-million mark Tuesday and stood at 256,828 Wednesday. The 7-day moving average of new cases reported daily is up to 2,501.43, while the 14-day average is at 2,381.57, both new highs. Since falling to low points in September after summertime peaks, the 7-day average has almost tripled and the 14-day average has increased by 167%.

Hospitals are feeling the stress of higher patient loads, as the state total of COVID-19 inpatients set a new high of 1,785 on Tuesday. UAB Hospital was treating 127 COVID-19 patients Wednesday. The Huntsville Hospital Health System, which includes its namesake facility plus six others across northern Alabama and one in southern Tennessee, reported Wednesday that 330 COVID-19 patients occupy hospital beds across its system, more than double the number of a month prior. Its facilities in Madison County were treating 155 COVID-19 inpatients.

The Alabama Department of Public Health reported 179 new COVID-related deaths in the past seven days. The majority were listed on Tuesday and Wednesday, as agencies caught up with unreported deaths over the holidays. The 7-day average stands at 25.27 deaths per day, down from last week’s numbers, while the 14-day average is at 26.0, little changed over a week’s time.

Positivity rates — the percentage positive results among all tests given — are at record highs as well, though Marrazzo said that may be a function of lower numbers of tests administered. With fewer tests being conducted, it also is possible the state has more people infected than officials know about because they haven’t taken tests.

The statewide 7-day moving average of positivity rates reached a record 27.13% on Wednesday, and the 14-day moving average climbed to 28.76%, also a record. The number of tests has dropped by about 30% over the past two weeks; the 7-day moving average is down to 7,133 tests daily.

“We’re still not testing as much as many people feel we should be,” Marrazzo said.

Thanksgiving Effect Unknown

Health officials across the nation advised strongly against traditional large family gatherings over Thanksgiving to help curtail the spread of the virus, but how effective that advice was remains to be seen.

Marrazzo said it takes about 10 to 14 days for new case and hospitalization numbers to reflect increased spread of the disease, and death numbers take about three weeks.

“(We have) really disturbing escalations, not just in the number of cases but very alarmingly in the number of deaths across the country,” Marrazzo said. “This is a really, really scary inflection point, and I don’t think that we are able to turn it around without experiencing some more stress and some more pain.

“We could really be in a situation in two to three weeks that compromises our ability to provide health care, and I don’t want to undersell that or under emphasize that. … We’ve been very cautious not to use alarmist terminology. … But I think this is a time when we need to start thinking about things like tidal wave imagery, tsunami imagery. We really are very, very concerned.”

On the county level, Jefferson County’s death toll is up to 511, with 17 additional deaths in the past week.

The 7-day moving average of new cases in Jefferson County is 376.86 per day, and the positivity rate is 31.24%.

Shelby County reported no new deaths in the past seven days, with 873 new cases, which takes the county’s moving average for that period to 124.71per day. The county’s positivity rate is 31.42%.

BirminghamWatch uses data provided to the public by ADPH, which is reported daily on its online dashboard.