MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA - Alabama reported more than 1,700 new confirmed coronavirus cases — the highest number yet for a single day in the state — as doctors and state officials expressed concern about further spread during the Fourth of July holiday weekend.
The state on Thursday surpassed the previous high-water mark for the most infections reported in a 24-hour period while the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 also reached a new high of 843. The state this week also recorded the lowest availability in ICU beds since the pandemic began.
Dr. Michael Saag, an infectious-diseases physician at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who also had COVID-19, likened the spread in the state to a "wildfire."
"The data are pretty dismal right now, not just in our state but around the country," Saag said in a Friday interview with reporters.
In May, Alabama was averaging 300 cases a day, but now is at over 1,000. "The data are telling us we are headed toward a tough situation," Saag said.
After the state saw a surge in cases after Memorial Day, doctors and state officials pleaded with people to use precautions during the July Fourth holiday weekend.
"As we celebrate America's independence this weekend, remember we're still battling a pandemic. ... Now is not the time to let our guard down. Our state & nation are depending on you," Governor Kay Ivey said in a tweet.
Avoid virus 'havens'
Saag said the two things people can do to mitigate spread is to wear a mask and avoid large crowds — particularly ones where most people aren't wearing masks.
"If people are gathering in large spaces together, it's a haven for the virus," Saag said.
Alabama has reported more than 41,000 cases of the new coronavirus since the pandemic began, with more than 25% of infections being reported in the last two weeks, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. So far, at least 983 Alabamians have died after contracting the virus.
State Health Officer Scott Harris urged people to be cautious and not give in to "COVID caution fatigue."
"Too many people are failing to take precautions and follow the simple steps that have been proven to prevent transmission of the virus," Harris said in a message to the state.
Dr. Don Williamson, the former state health officer who now heads the Alabama Hospital Association, said Thursday that the state has about 16% of intensive care beds available, the lowest share vacant since the pandemic began. By comparison, in early April, the state had 35% of ICU beds available.
The Alabama Department of Corrections reported Thursday that a second prison employee had died after testing positive for COVID-19.
The prison system said 75 inmates and 173 staff members and contract employees had tested positive for COVID-19. Nine inmates and two employees have died after contracting the virus.