MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama on Wednesday reported its second-highest number of new COVID-19 cases in a single day as medical officials continued to express concern about a rise in the number of people with the respiratory illness.
As of Wednesday, the state had reported more than 31,000 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, and at least 879 deaths from the virus. More than a fourth of the cases came in the last two weeks. The state on Tuesday added 954 cases, the second-highest number since the outbreak began.
A medical professor said the increase may be attributable to more people traveling and developing a weariness with strict social distancing rules.
"I think there is a certain amount of COVID fatigue where people are hoping to go back to what was our previous normal," said Dr. Molly Fleece, an assistant professor of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
"And so, we are seeing more people in crowded situations, whether in restaurants or bars or beaches. More people are traveling."
The state last week reached high-water marks for the percentage of positive tests, at 10.9% positive, and the number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital, with more than 680 hospitalized statewide.
"I'm just frustrated. There is nothing statewide that looks any better. It looks worse," said Dr. Don Williamson, a former state health officer who now heads the Alabama Hospital Association.
Williamson said as of Wednesday the state had only 17% of ICU beds available, and in Montgomery— which has emerged as a recent hotspot— only one of 106 beds was empty. Williamson said hospitals can add additional ICU beds, but the trends are worrying.
"There is nothing that I'm seeing that makes me think we are getting ahead of this," the former state health officer said.
Hospitals have indicated that they have plenty of ventilators available. Baptist Health Hospitals in Montgomery said Wednesday that about half of the 95 ventilators at its three hospitals were in use.
Fleece urged people to take precautions such as mask-wearing and handwashing.
"It's important to remember what we can do. We can influence those numbers. First and foremost, wearing a mask. Remember we are not wearing a mask solely to protect ourselves. More importantly, we are wearing a mask to protect those around us," Fleece said.