As Delta variant spreads across U.S., Alabama doctor thinks surge 'is going to get worse'

Hospitals in the U.S. South have quickly become overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients as cases continue climbing amid the surge of the Delta variant of coronavirus.

And while there are indications that Delta transmission tends to subside after around 50 days, some health professionals see things getting worse before getting better.

“We’ve seen it pick up with children, young adults, young women, pregnant women, unfortunately,” Dr. Ellen Eaton, assistant professor at the University of Alabama Birmingham Division of Infectious Disease, said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “And as cases have risen, we’ve also unfortunately seen hospitalizations and deaths. We think it’s going to get worse. All objective data suggests it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Our cases continue to hit record levels day after day.”

Alabama, where Eaton is based out of, currently ranks fourth overall in new cases. Hospitalizations are up 44% over the past 14 days while cases have increased by 42%.

“It’s pretty overwhelming here,” Eaton said. “We experienced a lull this summer. May, June, our hospital started clearing out. We were able to resume those services that we know are so important — procedures that may be elective but are still critical for our patients. And then with August, we’ve really seen the Delta variant pick up.”

Delta variant 'patients are definitely sicker'

While the elderly population of the U.S. was initially the hardest-hit group at the beginning of the pandemic, that has since changed due to the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.

According to Kaiser Health News, 90% of people ages 65 and up are fully vaccinated, which is more than 49 million seniors. Now, it’s younger Americans being hit hardest by the virus.

“Certainly, this group that we’re seeing now is younger,” Eaton said. “They’re mostly unvaccinated. If the average age is in the 50s to 60s, that still means we’re seeing 20- and 30-year-olds, in addition to some 70-, 80-year olds. The patients are definitely sicker.”

Overall, 60.2% of the population ages 12 and up is fully vaccinated, while 71% has received at least one dose. Vaccination has slowed given the persistent number of individuals who are refusing to get vaccinated despite scientific data showing that the vaccines make a significant difference in preventing serious illness and death.

“For our unvaccinated young patients, 20-, 30-, 40-, 50-year olds who are unvaccinated, the Delta variant is much more severe in them,” Eaton said. “We’re seeing them come in sooner. We’re seeing them require life support ventilation, even ECMO. And this has also been the case for our pregnant women.”

Eaton noted that 39 pregnant women were hospitalized in the month of August at her hospital, which was more than the peak of the virus back in December 2020. Among that group, 10 were admitted to the ICU and seven required intubation.

“If there’s ever a group who is thought of as young and healthy, they’re in the peak of their life,” Eaton said. “The fact that they’re able to get pregnant usually suggests they’re healthy. They often have young children at home.”

Children are another relatively vulnerable group, particularly those under the age of 12 since they are still ineligible to be vaccinated.

“There are some that are under two who are requiring intubation who do not have medical conditions,” Eaton said. “I have a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old who are unvaccinated, too young to be vaccinated. That’s very scary to know that the level of community spread in my community, in the schools, is frankly a huge risk factor for my unvaccinated children.”

Over 180,000 children tested positive for COVID-19 in the week ending Aug. 19, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Cases in children have risen substantially since the beginning of July and now account for 18% of newly confirmed weekly cases, leading to more hospitalizations..

“I think that just shows that this is a different virus,” Eaton said. “It’s a different demographic being affected. Unfortunately, it’s an unvaccinated group that's being affected.”

Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells and reach her at


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