Alabama’s top health officer issued a dire warning about the state’s battle against Covid-19 on Friday, saying he is unsure how much longer it will be able to sustain efforts against the surging disease with hospitals already deeply overwhelmed and no end in sight.
Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said at a Friday morning briefing that patients are being treated in hospital hallways and on stretchers as the state has 40 more Covid-19 patients than available staffed intensive care unit beds.
Some 2,879 coronavirus patients were hospitalized as of Thursday, Harris said, including 45 pediatric patients—at least five of whom were on ventilators.
Deaths have also been rising after an expected delay and there is not enough space for all the dead bodies, according to Harris.
He said two mobile morgues “typically held in case of a mass casualty event” have been deployed to the hard-hit counties of Mobile and Baldwin, marking the first time the state has turned to this emergency measure since the start of the pandemic.
“This is actually the situation right now in Alabama hospitals right now,” Harris said, explaining: “We have enough people dying in such numbers in these locations that there is no room to put these bodies.”
The health official emphasized that universal masking and widespread vaccinations would ease the crisis, saying he is “intensely frustrated” by the lack of both.
“We need to do what it takes to not continue this situation. I don’t know how much longer we’re going to be able to do this,” Harris said. “So much of what we’re seeing is preventable.”
Harris appeared emotional as he spoke in the briefing. Local news outlets highlighted the shift from his typical “data-driven medical analysis.”
Alabama—one of the least vaccinated states in the country—has been battling one of the worst Covid-19 outbreaks. It trails only Florida in terms of hospitalizations, reporting 60 per 100,000 residents, a number that increased 25% over the past two weeks, according to data compiled by The New York Times. Deaths have also increased 26% in the past 14 days and are now averaging about 27 per day, though Harris said 50 deaths were reported Thursday. Though vaccinations have been picking up, still only 37% of all residents are fully vaccinated, while 49% have had at least one dose. Like many Republican-led states, Alabama has not implemented any mandates for masks or vaccines, and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey insisted earlier this week it was “not political” to refrain from those steps. “We don’t need a mask mandate, we don’t need any kind of mandate from the state level,” Ivey said.