TUSCALOOSA, AL. — New cases of the novel coronavirus and hospitalizations of those with complications have seen a sustained rise across the state of Alabama and the rest of the country over the last month. But even as local inpatient COVID-19 totals steadily climb, health care and government officials say the situation on the ground in Tuscaloosa remains manageable.
DCH Health System on Tuesday reported 72 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, which marks a high over the previous weeks, but still falls well short of a spike in late July and early August that saw the three-hospital system top triple digits for its inpatient totals. Of the patients being treated in the hospital at present, 19 are currently being cared for in intensive care units (ICUs), with five or fewer on ventilators.
Click here to subscribe to our daily email newsletters and breaking news alerts delivered to your inbox and mobile devices for free. You can also support local journalism by donating as little as $5 a month to become a supporting member or by downloading our free Patch mobile app.
This comes as new cases surge and hospitals across the country see increases in new patients, with the COVID Tracking Project reporting roughly 12,000 new hospitalizations nationwide over the last month. That total had reached 42,917 as of Monday for the United States.
As of Tuesday, the state of Alabama reported 1,001 hospitalizations, up from 821 two weeks ago, according to the latest data from Bamatracker.com — an independent online platform widely used by leaders across the state, including the city of Tuscaloosa .
Andy North, vice president of marketing and communications for DCH, told Patch that on Aug. 4, the system had its highest number of COVID-19 positive inpatients to-date at 105. But since then, the numbers had fluctuated and generally trended downward.
"A little over a week ago we were averaging in the low 40s for total COVID-19 positive inpatients," North said via email. "In the last few days, the numbers have been on the rise and have been in the high 60s and low 70s."
The hospital system hit a two-week high for new inpatients on Oct. 21, when 15 new COVID-19 admissions were logged for a single day. Since that uptick, though, the number of virus admissions per day for DCH Health System has stayed below 10.
North also pointed out that despite the overall rise in hospitalizations and new cases, virus inpatients in the system's ICUs, along with the number of patients on ventilators or on BiPAP, have remained steady.
He then explained that group events, such as July 4 gatherings, seem to have been at the heart of eventual inpatient increases seen over the last few months. The overall rise is cases also coincides with numerous states, including Alabama, further easing restrictions on public health mandates regulating sporting events, social gatherings and business operations, as well as schools and universities returning to varying forms of in-person instruction.
"At the moment, we are not seeing a single contributing event behind the current increases but with potential holiday gatherings, the risk will likely increase," North said. "We encourage community members to avoid group gatherings and remain vigilant in the use of masks, hand washing and social distancing."
North's update to Patch was given a week after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its forecast for hospitalizations in the U.S. over the next four weeks, which was compiled through the use of 10 different forecast modeling groups.
The federal agency said four national forecasts predict a likely increase in the number of new hospitalizations per day over the next four weeks, with one predicting a likely decrease, and three forecasts remaining uncertain about the trend or predicting stable numbers.
Additionally, the forecasts estimate 2,600 to 6,200 new COVID-19 hospitalizations per day nationally by Nov. 16.
Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox gave his weekly COVID-19 update to the City Council during its pre-meeting briefing on Tuesday and said Tuscaloosa had added roughly 400 new confirmed virus cases since his last update on Oct. 20, but stressed that the situation with respect to hospitalizations is still well under control.
"The trend line is really where it's been the last six weeks, little ups and downs, but basically along the same trajectory," the mayor said, before noting a slight increase in the local seven-day average for new cases. "Although there's a little bit of a bump up here, it's still nothing you would put at the rate of alarming, but certainly something we will have to continue to monitor."
Turning to trends at DCH, Maddox said city leaders are seeing the number of new patients edge up again, along with those in the system's ICUs.
"Is this a longterm trend?," he asked. "Only the next few days will prove that out."
While underscoring the notion that DCH is at stable and manageable levels, Maddox did highlight that the city's infection rate - meaning the number of people each person infected with COVID-19 passes the virus to — has climbed slightly to 1.04.
Additionally, the mayor provided data showing that Tuscaloosa's roughly 7,400 confirmed cases represents 4.67% of the entire state's total. Of those testing positive in Tuscaloosa, 116 people have died, which comes out to a 1.56% death rate.
Maddox did express optimism at points during his latest update, namely for the city's positive workforce position and the number of new deaths remaining comparatively low, but reiterated that the situation can change rapidly and will require vigilance.
"We’re just one nursing home, one institutional spread from getting into a bad situation," he said.