Virus Outbreak

East Alabama Medical Center nurse Harvard Graham checks fluids for a COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020, in Opelika, Ala. The medical center faces a new influx of COVID-19 patients as the pandemic intensifies.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama is suffering a "self-inflicted wound" from COVID-19, with hospitals again filling up as the state trails the nation in vaccinations and pandemic precautions like face masks and social distancing are all but forgotten, a health leader said Tuesday.

Only 166 people were hospitalized statewide a month ago with COVID-19 after thousands were vaccinated and before a new variant took hold. But that low point has been followed by a rapid rise, and nearly 500 people were being treated for the virus now, statistics showed. At Cullman Regional, the number of patients in the critical care unit has been around four to five patients per day, a hospital spokesperson said.

Hospitals are far from the critical point they reached in January, when some 3,000 people were being treated at one time, but the fast-spreading Delta variant threatens to worsen the situation barring a rapid increase in vaccinations, said Dr. Donald Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association.

"There's just a sense of frustration," said Williamson, who used to head the Alabama Department of Public Health. "The fact that cases are rising is a self-inflicted injury."

Statistics show that only 50 people would currently be hospitalized if everyone who is eligible for a shot had gotten one, Williamson said, and chances are their illnesses wouldn't be as severe.

"This is the plague of our generation, and certainly of our lifetime. And now it could be so easily averted, but we're failing to do that," he said.

Only 38% of the state's population has gotten at least one vaccine dose and just 31% is fully vaccinated, state statistics showed, yet the daily pace of vaccinations has slowed to roughly the same amount that were being given months ago when doses were scarce. Relatively few people still take precautions in public, and businesses full of people are a common sight.

In Cullman County, slightly more than 24,000 people are fully vaccinated. The state has put the county in "high risk" category for COVID-19 due to the low rate of vaccinations. According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, the largest unvaccinated population among those eligible to be vaccinated are the 12-29 year olds.

Without a rapid turnaround in vaccinations, Williamson said, health officials worry that cases will continue increasing as highly contagious virus variants spread through the population at stores, churches, restaurants, bars, sports contests and other public events.

Rather than reimposing restrictions like mandatory mask wearing, capacity limits for businesses or shutdowns, Gov. Kay Ivey has said the only thing she supports is encouraging people to use their "common sense," show personal responsibility and get shots.

Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases inn Alabama has increased by 694, a spike of 573%. There were about 197 new cases per 100,000 people during the period, which ranked 11th nationally, with the largest increases along the coast in Mobile and Baldwin counties.

Some 11,436 people have died of COVID-19 in Alabama, giving the state the 17th highest death rate nationally. Alabama has reported more than 560,000 positive tests, and the percentage of tests coming back positive is on the rise.

Free vaccinations are available throughout Cullman County at various pharmacies, doctors' offices, the Cullman County Health Department and Cullman Regional. To make an appointment through Cullman Regional, go to and fill out the form on the vaccination clinic page. Vaccinations are offered at Cullman Urgent Care, Monday-Sunday during normal operating hours.

Times Editor Amy Henderson contributed to this report.

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