In a BirminghamWatch analysis of the state’s pandemic data, the 7-day moving average of new daily cases has fallen below the 1,000 mark, six weeks after it surpassed 5,500 — the highest reading since the pandemic began in March 2020.
The Alabama Department of Public Health reported on Wednesday that the 7-day average stands at 893.14 new cases per day. That reading comes a day after dropping below 1,000 and is now roughly one-seventh of the record set Sept. 1.
By comparison, the recent Delta surge took seven weeks to skyrocket from the previous low point of 121 cases per day on July 7 to the peak. And though the current level is still considerably higher than that low point, the downward direction of the curve is very close to the inverse of the upward slope in summer.
Moreover, the new-case rate is falling faster than the rate that came on the downside of the original COVID surge during the winter months, which did not benefit from the current widespread availability of vaccines.
The longer-term 14-day moving average has not yet dropped below 1,000; by design, that average does not react as quickly to data spikes in either direction. Still, Wednesday’s 14-day average of 1,123 new cases per day is less than half of where it stood Oct. 1 and less than one-fourth of the all-time high set Sept. 8, five weeks ago.
As of Wednesday, 810,501 COVID cases were reported throughout Alabama over the course of the pandemic, which is 16.1% of the state population.
The death rate has not declined as quickly, which is expected because deaths are typically a lagging indicator of the pandemic trends, trailing new cases by four to six weeks. On Wednesday, the 7-day average of reported deaths stood at 52.57 per day, roughly the same level that average has held for the previous week. That’s down from a Delta-surge peak of 134.57 on Sept. 23 and an all-time high of 154.29 on Jan. 29.
Death-rate trends are somewhat harder to pin down because many deaths may not be attributed to COVID and reported to ADPH for two to three weeks afterward. In addition, daily death reports can vary widely because of the day of the week. For instance, Wednesday’s reading was 111 deaths, while reports from the previous weekend showed only one death each day, mainly because those workers who report deaths weren’t working.
Hospitalizations also have decreased rapidly in the past six weeks, giving hospitals a chance to let their staffs recover after intensive care units who were strained beyond capacity. After peaking at 2,890 beds occupied by COVID patients on Sept. 1, Tuesday’s count by the Alabama Association of Hospitals showed 872 inpatients — a decrease of almost 70%. It’s still more than five times the lowest count before the Delta surge, when 166 inpatients were tallied on June 20.
However, part of the decline can be attributed to the “really high rate” of COVID deaths, according to State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris in comments to the Montgomery Advertiser.
Of the 1,366 overall ICU patients counted, 23% of those were infected by COVID-19. And of the 872 COVID patients in all units, 78% had not been vaccinated, with 4% having one dose of a two-shot regimen.
The slowdown in new cases is reflected in the ADPH listing of counties and their transmission rates, defined as the number of new cases per 100,000 residents, and the positivity rate, which is the percentage of those tested over the past seven days who returned a positive result.
At the height of the Delta surge, every county on the map was shown as red for high risk, indicating 100 or more positive results per 100,000 residents or a positivity rate of 10% or higher. Now 35 of the 67 counties are listed as high risk, with 25 counties shown with a substantial risk (50-99 cases per 100,000 residents or 8% to 10% positivity) and seven with a moderate risk (10-49 per 100,000 residents or 5% to 8% positivity).
The positivity rate for the state as a whole now stands at 9.1%. That number had been 20% or higher over a three-week span during the worst days of the Delta surge.
As of Tuesday, 43.6% of all Alabama residents had been fully vaccinated and 53.4% had had at least one dose. That’s up from 34.4% and 43.4%, respectively, on Aug. 1, in a state where anti-vaccine sentiment has run high. Nationally, full vaccinations have reached 57%.
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, and from vaccination data aggregated from official sources by Google.