Hospitals in Alabama are about a week away from rejecting cancer patients and others in need of care if the current prevalence of COVID-19 continues, Jefferson County experts say.
“If we continue down the path were right now with ever-increasing cases, we have no choice,” said Dr. Sarah Nafziger, co-chair of UAB’s Emergency Management Committee at a press conference on Friday.
Hospitals in the Birmingham area are facing staff shortages as the disease spreads among some staff and the ICU bedside is approaching capacity as the number of COVID-1
UAB experts urge the public to practice social distancing by wearing masks and avoiding gathering indoors with people who are not in their immediate household.
The county sees more than 300 new COVID-19 cases a day, and health experts are very concerned about the spread during Thanksgiving.
“I think it’s important for all of us to think and reconsider how we will celebrate Thanksgiving this year,” said Dr. Mark Wilson, Jefferson County Health Officer.
Given the current spread rate, there is a one-in-five chance that someone could spread COVID-19 if 10 people congregate, Wilson said. If 50 people gather, that chance increases to two-thirds, he said.
“Being together indoors without masks is a recipe for transmission.”
Despite expectations that COVID-19 would increase this winter, no increase was expected before the holiday and is cause for concern, said UAB’s Dr. Michael Saag.
“The frequency of positive tests in the last few weeks has been astounding,” Saag said, adding that the current increase could be amplified by another increase in cases where families do not take social distance to Thanksgiving. “I’m a little overwhelmed to be honest with you what it will look like.”
Saag recommends small gatherings outdoors or with masks indoors. People gathered indoors must separate to eat.
“We do not know who is infected and who is not,” he said.
Saag says recent tests of the effect of COVID-19 vaccines are the reason for high hopes that the effect at Thanksgiving next year will be defeated. But he said his hospital colleagues are getting exhausted. He asked the Alabamians to approach the coming year as a war effort.
“We are on a patrol right now,” he said. “It’s a band of brothers and sisters. These are people fighting in the trenches against a common enemy. He added that survival means: “We all do our part to minimize going out in crowds of more than 5-10 people.”
Dr. Wilson says the health department will continue to work with companies and individuals who violate social distancing protocols, but they are committed to enforcing the state Safer at Home Order and are prepared to urge police to do so.
“The rules have not changed. We still know that wearing a mask, social distance and hand cleansing and avoiding these larger gatherings that do not come from your own household are still the most effective ways to prevent this virus from spreading, ”said Dr. Wilson.
Jefferson County schools will continue to be open as there has been little evidence of classroom proliferation, according to Wilson. He said schools are closed on a case-by-case basis due to staff shortages when teachers are quarantined.
The first shipments of COVID-19 vaccine supplies are expected in Jefferson County early next month and will be assigned to First Responders.
“We do not know how much vaccine we will get in the beginning, but it will be a very limited supply,” Wilson said. He hopes the public will have access to the vaccine in the summer.
Dr. Nafziger says hospitals across the county face the same challenges with declining staff and bed capacity in the coming days and weeks.
She urged Alabamians to go to emergency clinics rather than emergency shelters and continue to be aware of COVID-19.
“Please help us with this. Do not give up on us. We are tired, but we do not stop with you, “said Nafziger. “Please do your part so we can be available to help take care of you.”