The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in Alabama have reached critical levels again, straining health care facilities and throwing Thanksgiving holiday plans into disarray.
In the weekly BirminghamWatch analysis of data supplied by the Alabama Department of Public Health, the moving averages of both new cases and of COVID-related deaths have hit new all-time highs in the past two days, and the number of hospital beds filled with coronavirus patients is quickly approaching the levels seen during the peak this summer.
The 14-day moving averages of daily new positive cases set a record Wednesday, just a day after the more-volatile 7-day average did the same. The longer average now stands at 2,191.5 new cases per day, while the shorter average is up to 2,261.71. That’s down slightly from Tuesday’s report of 2,288.14, which set a record.
Over the past two weeks, ADPH has reported daily new case counts of 2,000 or greater on 10 days. That does not include the days when the department reported spikes because older, previously unreported cases had been found. Before that period, reports of more than 2,000 new cases in a day had occurred only seven times since the pandemic began in March.
The COVID-19 death toll also is increasing at a sharply higher rate, with the 7-day average of new deaths reaching a new high of 33 on Wednesday. Over the previous two weeks, that average has shot upward by 73.6% and has more than doubled since the beginning of November.
The longer-term 14-day average deaths per day also set a record Wednesday of 29.43 new deaths per day, a jump of 80.7% in two weeks’ time and 123.9% since Nov. 1.
Coronavirus hospitalizations are on a significant increase as well, though they have not reached the record levels of July and August. On Wednesday, ADPH reported 1,483 beds were occupied by patients being treated for COVID-19. That’s a hike of 23% from two weeks prior. The most beds occupied on any single day was Aug. 6, when 1,613 were in use.
The positivity rate also climbed to a new high. For the 14-day period on average, 23.49% of all COVID-19 tests administered returned positive results on Wednesday. Public health officials have set the goal of having 5% or less positivity rates; New York City recently closed its schools when the positivity rate hit 3%.
The rapid increases in new cases, deaths, hospitalizations and positivity rates mirror the trend seen in almost all parts of the country. That has prompted many states to clamp down more on travel, dining inside restaurants and bars, and gatherings of all kinds — even in some cases restrictions on how many people can celebrate Thanksgiving in a home.
Many school systems across the nation that had returned to in-school learning, either two days a week or the full five, have switched back to virtual learning for all or part of the school week. When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio closed the schools, angry parents demonstrated outside of Gracie Mansion, for instance and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear is facing court suits after ordering all public and private schools to go back to virtual learning.
In Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey has not made any changes in her Safer at Home orders last modified Nov. 5 and has said she doesn’t intend to alter the plan until it is set to expire in early December.
Some school systems in Alabama have put students back into virtual learning because of isolated outbreaks or a lack of available staff, but most of those closures have been short-term. High school sports continue as scheduled, with the AHSAA football playoffs reaching the semifinal round Friday and the Super 7 championships set for Dec. 2-4.
For college teams, it’s a different story. The biggest news came Wednesday morning when Alabama head coach Nick Saban announced he had again tested positive for COVID-19 and was suffering with mild symptoms. He will not be on the sidelines during Saturday’s Iron Bowl game against Auburn.
UAB also is missing its third straight game this week, as Southern Miss canceled the Friday game because of positive tests in the program.
The data used in the BirminghamWatch analysis comes from the ADPH through its online COVID-19 dashboard.