MONTGOMERY — A "tidal wave" of COVID-19 cases is putting severe stress on Alabama hospitals, medical officials said Thursday, adding the state will likely soon surpass the previous record for hospitalizations.
"We need Alabamians to understand we are in a difficult position right now. We are seeing case numbers again as high as we have ever seen," State Health Officer Scott Harris said in a weekly briefing with reporters.
"That has put a severe stress on our hospital situation. We have only 5% of our ICU beds available statewide. many facilities, particularly in the southern part of the state do not have available ICU beds at this time."
Medical officials have said a surge in cases is being driven by low vaccination rates and the highly contagious delta variant, and implored people to get vaccinated and wear masks to combat the spread and prevent severe illness.
Dr. Sarah Nafziger, vice president of University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital Clinical Services, said the hospital has had to limit the number of procedures they are doing and decline transfers to the hospital.
"We are seeing an absolute tidal wave," Nafziger said. She said the hospital is providing care and emergency services, but she said the trends and projections are alarming.
"I hate to even talk about these things happening, but that's what happening. That's the reality of what's happening. When you think about running out of hospital beds, and running out of health care resources, that is the path that we are on."
There were 2,441 COVID-19 patients in state hospitals on Thursday, according to numbers provided by the Alabama Department of Public Health. If the trajectory continues, Harris said the state will surpass the previous high of 3,087 within a few days.
The overwhelming majority of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 are unvaccinated, Harris said. Numbers provided by state hospitals indicate that 89% of COVID-19 patients in state hospitals have not been fully vaccinated. Harris said 11% of hospitalized virus patients have been fully vaccinated and 3% have been fully vaccinated, according to numbers provided to the state by hospitals.
At UAB, Nafziger said 91% of hospitalized patients are unvaccinated.
Alabama ranks fifth in the country for new cases per capita, behind Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Alabama is seeing an average of 3,400 new cases per day.