Hitting a Peak or Holiday Anomaly? Alabama’s COVID New-Case Averages Going in Different Directions

It’s a bit hard to tell which direction the COVID numbers in Alabama are taking right now, and the Labor Day weekend may be the primary reason — or not.

In BirminghamWatch’s periodic analysis of the state’s COVID data, the number of new cases took a significant dip over the holiday period. But the two main moving averages are at cross currents as far as indicating a trend, and the first day of reporting after the holidays has showed numbers jumping up to higher levels once again.

The 7-day moving average of new daily cases fell to 3,961.57 as of Wednesday, showing the effect of three straight daily reports of below 3,000 cases. The short-term average dropped by 28.5% over seven days before, when a record of 5,538.14 was reached.

But the longer-term 14-day moving average, which smooths out spikes in the data stream more than the 7-day measure, set a new all-time record on Wednesday when it reached 4,749.86. That’s a hike of 13.5% over the reading of 4,183.5 a week before.

Overall, the cumulative total of COVID cases in Alabama since the pandemic began now stands at 732,151, up by 4,791 from Tuesday.

Statistically, when such averages began to diverge, it may mean the underlying data is turning in the other direction. And several other states whose caseload also spiked over the past two months because of the delta variant are seeing their data take the same turn. Other states that didn’t see the same rapid increases are now trending higher. And the holiday period, when many people are away from home and hospitals are often not staffed as highly, can make the numbers take abnormal turns.

The number of COVID-related deaths may be facing a similar situation as new cases, though lack of reporting over weekends is exacerbated over three-day holidays. After reporting just six deaths from Sunday through Tuesday, the Alabama Department of Public Health said 68 deaths from COVID were reported on Wednesday, bringing the overall death toll to 12,488.

After peaking at 41.57 deaths per day a week ago, the 7-day average fell to 28.14 as of Wednesday. But like its new-cases counterpart, the 14-day average of deaths reached a new peak for the summer surge with 34.86 daily deaths.

Hospitalization rates have fluctuated slightly in the last week, with lower numbers over the holiday weekend turning higher afterward. On the whole, the statewide total of COVID inpatients has stayed around the 2,800 mark, which is near total capacity.

Tuesday’s report showed 2,875 beds were filled by COVID-infected patients, up from 2,815 a week prior. Of those, 84% have not been vaccinated for COVID at all, while 12% had received the full vaccine regimen and the remaining 4% were partially vaccinated. Those percentages have varied little over the past three weeks.

Intensive care units continue to run over capacity, with 1,582 ICU patients being serviced in 1,523 staffed beds. Just over half of ICU patients are COVID infected.

BirminghamWatch uses data from the ADPH as published on its online dashboard for its analyses. Additional information comes from the Alabama Hospital Association, which publishes updates each weekday on its Twitter account.