BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — COVID-19 is “raging” through Alabama as thousands refuse vaccinations that nearly always prevent serious illness and a highly contagious strain races through communities where many have quit taking basic safety precautions, a health leader said Thursday.
With more than 1,250 people hospitalized statewide with the illness caused by the new coronavirus — nearly all of whom aren’t inoculated — Alabama now has the nation’s highest positivity rate and there’s no sign the rapid increase in cases will end soon, Dr. Sarah Nafziger said.
The vaccines against COVID-19 would have prevented the surge and saved lives if only more people got them, said Nafziger, vice president of clinical services at UAB Hospital.
“Unfortunately, it looks like it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” she told a news briefing.
Only 34% of Alabama’s population is fully vaccinated, which is lowest in the nation. Health officials were encouraged by a recent increase in the vaccination rate, but it’s unclear whether the small boost could help stem the flood of new cases since it takes weeks for a newly vaccinated person to be fully protected.
While some school systems and government installations including the Army’s Redstone Arsenal have announced a return to mandatory face mask rules, Nafziger said she sees few masks in public and worries that many people will simply ignore new recommendations, as has happened throughout the pandemic.
Nafziger said she and her family recently returned to wearing masks in public places because of how quickly the pandemic is worsening as the delta variant spreads even faster than the original coronavirus.
“We hate it. But it’s what we have to do to keep ourselves safe and our neighbors safe,” she said.
More than 11,500 people have died of COVID-19 in Alabama, which is 17th highest nationally overall and seventh highest per capita at 236 deaths per 100,000 people, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.
Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by 1,402, a jump of 265.2%.