(Un)Happy New Year for Rising Number of Patients Hospitalized With COVID

Jefferson County and the state enter the new year with hospitals straining under the explosive growth in the number of COVID-19 patients since Thanksgiving.

The daily patient count for hospitals in Jefferson County has risen by 64% since Dec. 1, from 390 to 639 on Thursday, according to figures released by the Jefferson County Department of Health.

Two hundred and fourteen people in the county spent New Year’s Eve in intensive care units across the county’s 11 hospitals, 125 of them on ventilators.

“Every single acute-care hospital is in the same boat,” said Julie Cobb, a registered nurse and health care coalition coordinator for the county Health Department. “Our numbers of hospitalized patients is increasing daily.”

She said a surge of coronavirus patients during the summer peaked at 331 on July 3, then declined before rising again.

“We have been steadily going up every day for the last month, with no plateau or dropdowns of any significance,” Cobb said. “When we were back in the spring, we were averaging 107 hospitalized patients a day. Now we are at 639.”

Hospitals across Alabama are experiencing big increases in COVID-19 patient loads, though not quite as large as in Jefferson County.

The Alabama Department of Public Health reported that 2,815 patients were being treated for the coronavirus at hospitals across the state on Thursday. That is up by 57% from the total of 1,794 on Dec. 1.

Public health officials have warned that the numbers aren’t likely to improve in the near future. The December surge has been driven at least in part by Thanksgiving gatherings, and even more people traveled over the Christmas holidays.

The growing patient counts are a reflection of high positivity rates among those tested for COVID-19.

The positivity rates stood at more than 60% in two counties, according to ADPH figures on Thursday. In Marion County in west Alabama, 66% of those tested for the coronavirus over the past two weeks turned out to be positive for the disease; the figure for nearby Walker County was 62%.

Health officials generally consider any rate above 5% to be too high.

DeKalb County reported a positivity rate of 59%, followed by Limestone County, 57%; and Lauderdale, Lawrence and Winston counties at 55% each.

Hospitals Working Together

Despite the growing number of hospital patients in Jefferson County, Cobb said there are some positive aspects to the situation.

“The hospitals are not working in silos,” she said. “We are all working together … we have regular calls; we support one another if there’s a need.”

She said supplies were a problem early in the pandemic, which led some hospitals to quit performing elective procedures. “That has not been an issue since then,” she said.

While there was a shortage of ventilators in some parts of the United States, Cobb said that was never an issue here.

“That is not an issue at all,” she said. “There have been some state public health-purchased ventilators that have gone into the system. Some of the facilities have been able to purchase their own.

“We have never had a ventilator shortage.”