Alabama is out of ICU beds amid a COVID-19 surge, with some patients being treated on gurneys in hallways, hospitals chief says

A COVID-19 patient's feet are visible in an Alabama hospital bed as a nurse and a family member look on, in December 2020.
A COVID-19 patient in ICU during an outbreak in December, 2020, in Opelika, Alabama. Julie Bennett/AP Photo
  • There were 1,568 ICU patients in Alabama on Tuesday, which has only 1,557 ICU beds in the state.
  • Some patients are “on gurneys, receiving ICU care in the hallway,” Dr. Don Williamson told WSFA.
  • Alabama’s low COVID-19 vaccination rate is putting intense strain on medical services, he said.
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Alabama has more patients needing ICU beds than are available as COVID-19 cases max out the state’s intensive care capacity, the head of the state’s hospitals association said Tuesday.

“We’ve never been here before,” Alabama Hospital Association President Dr. Don Williamson told WSFA. “We are truly now in uncharted territory in terms of our ICU bed capacity.”

As of Tuesday, there were 1,568 patients needing intensive care, but only 1,557 designated ICU beds, Williamson told WSFA.

In total, there are 2,700 people being treated for COVID-19 in the state, of whom 41 are children, he said, according to WFSA. New cases in Alabama reached 4,023 on Tuesday, one of the highest days since the pandemic began, according to The New York Times’ cases tracker.

Patients are still receiving ICU-level care in other units, and the ventilator supply has held up, Williamson told WSFA. But the issue of ICU space is critical.

“We’ve got patients in some hospitals on gurneys, receiving ICU care in the hallway,” Williamson told WSFA.

The situation is having a knock-on effect on patients with other ailments as staff and space are reallocated to COVID-19 patients, he said, according to WSFA. Most worrying, he said, was that he didn’t believe the crisis has reached its peak yet.

A crisis of vaccine hesitancy

“This could have been prevented had we gotten vaccination numbers to higher levels,” Williamson told WSFA.

Alabama is one of the least vaccinated states in the country, with just 35% of the state’s population fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.

Only 12% of those hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state are fully vaccinated, Williamson told WSFA. Vaccine hesitancy is so rife that by early August, 65,000 doses of vaccine had expired unused, WSFA earlier reported.

As of early August, 11,600 Alabama patients had died with the virus since the pandemic began. Of those, only 26 were fully vaccinated.

The situation is prompting increasingly tough measures to promote vaccination. In early August, two major hospitals in Mobile and the Birmingham area took the decision to require all staff and volunteers to get vaccinated, AL.com reported.

Dr. Jason Valentine, a physician in Mobile, posted to Facebook to say that, as of October, he would no longer treat unvaccinated patients, AL.com reported.