Concerns over hospital capacity mount as schools prepare to reopen

Concerns over hospitalizations statewide

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - UAB set another record Sunday with 123 COVID-19 patients receiving treatment at the hospital. The number of coronavirus cases continues to put a strain on hospital resources across Alabama, and as schools prepare to reopen in a few weeks, the Executive Director of the Alabama Hospital Association Dr. Don Williamson says he’s keeping a close eye on things.

Williamson said as of Friday there are about 225 ICU beds available across the state. That’s about a 14% rate of availability. That’s an improvement over recent numbers but in the Birmingham area availability is only around 10%.

Williamson is concerned there will be a sharper increase in a month or so as students return to classrooms. The rate could rise to 1,600 a day or even higher.

“We certainly have the possibility of being in a very serious situation. Especially for the middle schools and high schools. The data just shows they transmit,” he said.

Williamson said he believes the state is in a position where ia decision has to be made - wear masks and social distance or not. Williamson said European schools have been able to open safely but they have a lower rate of confirmed cases. Alabama remains around 18% according to State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris.

Dr. Harris said the national guard will be scouting out locations for alternative or pop up hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients in the event that a surge overwhelms state hospitals.

The Alabama Corp of Engineers checked out the Sheraton Hotel and the BJCC as possible locations for housing patients if local hospitals are overwhelmed. Williamson said pop up hospitals would be a last resort for treating patients and something no one wants to see.

“The biggest problem is how do you staff them? If you look at other communities, the thing you see is they don’t get the kind of use you think they will. Often they are not used or they are filled with people who don’t have COVID,” Williamson said.

Williamson said it’s better for staffing, treatment and pharmacies on campus to keep patients in hospitals, but all of this depends on the number of patients we see in hospitals.

If numbers jump dramatically after schools open up, there may be a need for more spaces.

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