By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The number of coronavirus patients in Alabama hospitals rose to its highest levels in six months Monday as heath officials urged schools to require masks and other measures during a “critical juncture” in the pandemic.
Dr. Don Williamson, the former state health officer who now heads the Alabama Hospital Association, said the 1,583 hospitalized people includes 38 children. The state last saw numbers that high in early February. A month ago, there were a little over 200 people hospitalized.
The 1,583 patients in state hospitals is a little more than half of the number in January when there were 3,000 hospitalized. But Williamson said he is concerned the state is rapidly approaching the previous high-water mark.
Alabama’s status as one of the two least vaccinated states in the country — plus studies suggesting that the delta variant is just a contagious as chickenpox and that even vaccinated people can spread the illness to others — have caused health officials to worry about what is ahead and to emphasize the need for mask-wearing and vaccinations.
Alabama in the last two weeks has seen one of the sharpest rises in COVID-19 cases in the country, ranking eighth among the states, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Alabama has risen over the past two weeks from 799.57 new cases per day on July 17 to 2,391.14 new cases per day on July 31.
Only 34.4% of Alabama’s population is fully vaccinated, which is lowest percentage in the nation, according to numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mississippi has 34.5% of its population fully vaccinated.
The Alabama Department of Public Health on Monday officially released guidance that encourages K-12 public schools to implement universal masking, including on school buses, when classes resume.
Dr. Karen Landers, a medical officer and pediatrician with the Alabama Department of Public Health, wrote that it is imperative for adults to take action since children under age 12 are not eligible for the vaccine.
“With low vaccine rates in Alabama it will be a matter of a few weeks after school resumes before we see a rise in cases in the educational system,” Landers wrote in the document.
“Alabama is at a critical juncture. All of us want our children to be able to learn and thrive,” she wrote.
Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday also released a video with State Health Officer Scott Harris answering questions about the vaccine and encouraging people to get vaccinated.
“Because we have this delta variant circulating, it is so infectious that anybody who gets it is likely to spread it to three or four other people,” Harris said.