Alabama’s healthcare organizations are pleading with the public to stay home and stay safe during the holidays to avoid an even worse COVID-19 catastrophe. On Thursday of last week, there were 2,425 hospitalized COVID-positive patients and 3515 newly confirmed cases in our state. With only a limited number of healthcare workers vaccinated, we simply cannot have the gatherings of friends and family that typically occur during the holiday season. While those are important and treasured times, the true spirit of the season is not dependent on those gatherings, but what we celebrate in our hearts. Protecting those we love so we can all be together again next year is the most precious gift we can give right now.
We are certainly excited that some of our healthcare workers began receiving vaccinations this week; however, this will not begin to reduce the spread of the virus in the general population. Hopefully, vaccine will be more widely available by spring or early summer, paving the way for community-wide immunity and the return of some normalcy.
In the meantime, we need all Alabamians to fully understand that our healthcare system is being stretched to the limit. Alabama was listed this week as one of the top five states in the country in terms of limited ICU bed capacity, with almost 90 percent of all ICU beds full; forty percent of these beds are filled with COVID-19 patients. Our doctors, nurses and other staff are exhausted, and many of them have been affected by the community spread of the disease. While we struggle with the increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients that need our care, we are also caring for the other medical needs in our communities, treating injuries from accidents, heart attacks and all other medical conditions that need attention. Our healthcare system is stressed to capacity and adding another holiday surge could have dire consequences.
To help limit the spread of COVID-19 we must have your help. Because the virus is so rampant in the community, any interaction outside your home is risky. For that reason, we ask that you evaluate any departure from your home by weighing the importance of your journey against your possible exposure and the risk of an adverse outcome should you become infected. If you do leave your home, please remember the three essential rules to lower, but not eliminate, your risk. Mask wearing is not optional, it is foundational in protection and must cover both the mouth and nose to be effective. Next, six feet of distance is a minimum distance of separation, and it applies in all four directions. Lastly, hand sanitizing, hand washing and not touching your face are also critical steps. If we all take these precautions, we can prevent the tragedy of increasing deaths in January.
We are all tired of this pandemic and of the precautions we have been asked to take; nevertheless, it would be much better to reduce this year’s holiday gatherings than to celebrate the holidays next year with an empty chair at the table. As we together face this pandemic, may we with Tiny Tim say “God bless us everyone”
Alabama Hospital Association, Don Williamson, MD, president
Alabama Nursing Home Association, Brandon Farmer, president and CEO
Alabama State Nurses Association, John C. Ziegler, D.Min, MA, BA, executive director
Medical Association of the State of Alabama, Mark Jackson, executive director