Alabama Has No More ICU Beds Amid Rising COVID Cases, Low Vaccination Rates
Alabama has run out of intensive care unit (ICU) beds amid a surge of COVID-19 patients as the Delta variant rages throughout the state.
The Alabama Hospital Association told the New York Times on Wednesday that the state has "negative 29" ICU beds with more than two dozen people on emergency room waitlists.
Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, Director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told CNN, "Unfortunately, that means several bad things. First of all, it means that you have patients that qualify for entry or admission into the ICU but simply can't be accommodated. So where do those patients go? Unfortunately, they stay in the emergency room on the regular floor where you're already stretched for capacity to take care of these people because so many of our staff are out with COVID."
"It's really just a domino effect that then clogs up our ERs and clogs up everything else. You can imagine when you're trying to take care of ICU-level patients in an emergency department, how are you going to accommodate people coming in — again, not just for COVID, but for all the usual things that people use the ED floor for? It's a very, very tenuous situation," she continued.
Marrazzo explained that if hospitalizations due to COVID continue this way, by September she predicts the number of patients will be 5,000 — which would be "apocalyptic."
"Probably about a third of those people are going to require an ICU bed and that is frankly untenable given the infrastructure, the resources, and really importantly, the staff that we have," she told CNN.
Only 36 percent of adults in the state are fully vaccinated, with 47 percent partially vaccinated, according to a New York Times database.
On Monday, the seven-day hospitalization average was 2,603. The last time the number was higher was on Jan. 10, with a record of more than 3,300 people.
"We are experiencing a very significant patient overflow right now. It's unlike anything I've seen in my career," Ginger Henry, chief operating officer at Baptist Medical Center South, told WSFA on Tuesday.
Henry added, "We have patients who require ICU-level care that I can't get into an ICU bed, every day."
An Alabama doctor shared emotional testimony on Tuesday to WAAY 31, explaining that the last time many people speak to their loved ones battling COVID is right before they're placed on a ventilator.
"In our heart, we know this is going to be the last time these folks talk to their families. I've had people reach out to me on Facebook and said you know, Facetime was the last time I saw my dad or my loved one before getting put on the ventilator," Dr. Jenna Carpenter, a pulmonary critical care physician at Marshall Medical Centers, told the outlet. "Once you get them on the ventilator, I put my hand on their chest and I've literally just cried. It's very hard."
Staff have also been emotionally drained by the situation.
"We have cried up there in the ICU. We have held on to one another. We've been emotionally devastated," said Carpenter.
The lack of ICU beds in Alabama comes a month after Gov. Ivey, 79, published an op-ed in The Washington Post urging residents to get vaccinated as the highly contagious Delta variant continues to spread.
The 76-year-old Republican blasted anyone who is "pushing fake news and conspiracy theories about this vaccine," accusing them of being "reckless" and "causing great harm to people."
She continued, "The unvaccinated folks are being lied to, and that is just plum sad. It is no secret that I expressed some frustration when talking to reporters last week, but the data does not lie, and I simply do not want to see Alabamians, or anyone else for that matter, suffer."
In her op-ed, Ivey acknowledged that there are risks that come along with the vaccine, but noted that the benefits "far outweigh" any risks. "The hard, cold facts show the vaccine is saving lives. This virus is deadly serious, and in the United States, the pandemic is, unfortunately, becoming one of the unvaccinated," Ivey wrote.
She later added, "We have a weapon today to battle COVID-19 that we didn't have a year ago. It's up to you to use the good common sense God gave you to do what is best for you and your loved ones."
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