The surge in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continues across Alabama, as the spread of the stronger Delta variant has pushed those numbers to levels close to those seen during the worst part of the pandemic early this year.
In the Birmingham Watch periodic analysis of data reported by the Alabama Department of Public Health, the total number of cases since the outbreak began in March 2020 reached 595,816 on Wednesday. The 7-day moving average of new cases now stands at 2,621.86 per day, an increase of 18,353 cases for the week. That’s 35.7% higher than the average of 1,931.43 a week prior, and it’s the highest 7-day average recorded since Jan. 31.
The longer-term 14-day average has reached 2,276.64 cases per day, up by almost 50% over the previous seven days.
ADPH reported more than 3,000 new cases each day on Tuesday and Wednesday, the first time numbers have reached those heights since Jan. 26.
Hospitalizations have continued a sharp uptrend, as the number of beds occupied by COVID inpatients climbed to 1,736 on Wednesday. That is more than 10 times the 166 beds occupied by COVID patients on June 20, the lowest mark set during the early-summer decline, and is up by 555 over the past week. (Unlike most other data, the ADPH adjusts previous days’ hospitalization figures up or down frequently, as health agencies make corrections. In many cases, patients first thought to be positive for the coronavirus might later be found not to have been, and vice versa. For instance, ADPH reported 1,883 hospitalized COVID patients on Monday, then reduced it to 1,584 two days later.)
The increases parallel those shown by other southern states, where vaccination levels have been much lower than those seen in most of the rest of the nation. Florida has been particularly hard hit, with hospitalizations during the past six weeks moving from a low of 1,788 on June 19 to 10,211 on July 30.
Two bright spots show clearly in the latest data, however — fewer deaths, and more vaccinations.
Despite the big jumps in new cases, the number of deaths attributed to COVID has remained relatively low, especially when compared to the triple-digit levels last winter. In the past week, 51 deaths were reported, for an average of 7.29 per day. That is slightly higher than the previous week’s average of 6.86, or 48 deaths for that week. Health officials attribute the low death toll to much higher vaccination rates among those age 60 and older, who were more vulnerable to severe effects of the illness that often led to death before the vaccine was widely available.
The current surge of cases is attacking younger people, primarily because the vaccination percentages are much lower in that demographic. While they can suffer severe effects from COVID, those in their 20s, 30s and 40s are much less likely to die from the virus because they were in better health before contracting COVID than older adults were.
The message by health and government officials to get more people vaccinated is finally starting to show results. In Alabama, 76,877 vaccine shots were administered in the 7-day period ending Monday, compared to just 30,951 for the first seven days of July — an increase of 148% from the first week to the most recent. Still, Alabama ranks near the bottom of the list of vaccination percentages of all the states and territories.
Jefferson County has recorded 2,152 new COVID cases over the past week, plus two deaths.