Surge in COVID-19 Cases from Thanksgiving Still to Come, UAB Doctor Says

Dr. Sarah Nafziger, co-chair of UAB’s emergency management committee. Source: UAB

The Thanksgiving holidays have passed and the leftover turkey remnants in the refrigerator have dwindled. But the after-effects of the holiday period are just now beginning when it comes to the COVID-19 virus, according to a top doctor with UAB.

Dr. Sarah Nafziger, co-chair of the school’s emergency management committee and a professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine, says that UAB Hospital is already seeing a continuing increase in the number of coronavirus patients that’s pushing current limits. But even more cases are likely to come through the doors in the next couple of weeks, if past results are any indication.

“We haven’t even begun to see those patients (from Thanksgiving) yet,” Nafziger said during a media teleconference Friday. “Those patients are not showing up at the hospital yet. What we see is after a holiday, about two weeks later we start seeing the bumping cases. Then two weeks after that, we start seeing a rise in hospitalization related to those cases as patients become more ill. So we haven’t even begun to see a surge related to Thanksgiving yet. What we’re seeing now is a surge related to maybe what we did over Halloween, to football games we went to, small gatherings we went to.”

The surge is partly a consequence of “COVID fatigue,” as people become tired of being bombarded with news about the pandemic day in and day out.

“It’s easy to just turn off the TV and not think about COVID, or maybe close your phone and not read the articles, and just choose to think about something else,” Nafziger said. “I want people to take a minute and realize that these are real people, just like me and you, who are coming to the hospital and who are critically ill, and some of them are dying. …

“Granted, most people who get COVID recover and go on to do fine. But we don’t know if that’s going to be me, if that’s going to be you, if that’s going to be that family member who’s going to be the one who’s affected in that way so that they’re critically ill and so that they die.”

UAB Hospital had 124 COVID patients Friday morning, down slightly from a peak earlier this week of 137. The hospital has the ability to increase capacity for those patients, but it may mean shifting beds and resources that are needed by people with other non-COVID issues such as heart attacks, cancer and strokes.

“The sad reality is that we only have so many resources to go around,” Nafziger said. “If we’re dedicating those resources to the care of COVID patients, then we can’t dedicate (them) for the care of other things that we normally care for. We’re making adjustments on a daily basis, and trying to maximize the things we do for patients that don’t have COVID, and making sure we do that while still meeting the needs of those who present (themselves to the hospital) with COVID problems.”

Emergency departments have have seen a sharp uptick in patient traffic.

Number of Patients, Duration of Pandemic Are Taking a Toll

The increased caseload and the length of the pandemic have taken a toll on UAB Hospital workers, she said, and COVID cases among employees have increased significantly, which has taken its toll on staffing levels.

“We’re still able to staff all of our areas adequately right now, but it has definitely stretched us to the limit,” Nafziger said. “But folks are rising to the challenge. … They are emotionally drained, they’re  physically tired, and we’re are all ready for this to be over with. But at the same time I see it in their eyes and hear in their voices, they also voice their resolve that they’re not going to quit, they’re coming in to work and they’re going to see this thing through to the end.”

The introduction of new vaccines for the virus shows promise that there may be a way to bring the virus to its knees in the months to come.

At present, about 25% of the beds in the intensive care unit are filled with COVID patients. Nafziger acknowledged that she worries about the unit being overrun with COVID patients, especially as it affects care for those patients who don’t have COVID.

Nafziger echoed the message to the public that many of her colleagues have voiced over the past months: Don’t let up, and stay vigilant in the fight.


“I’m pleading with the public to please take this seriously. Please wear your mask. Please socially distance, wash your hands, because we don’t want anyone to die from this disease who doesn’t have to. There’s hope with a vaccine that’s going to be out in just a few months for the general public and a lot sooner than that — we are hopeful of that anyway. So there’s hope — there’s a light at the end of this tunnel.”