Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge upon surge after holidays


HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Health experts are painting a bleak picture of the weeks ahead as hospitals brace for a further surge of coronavirus patients triggered by Christmas and New Year’s gatherings.

Many area hospitals said they are already struggling to care for the record numbers of patients being brought through their doors on a daily basis. Statewide, Alabama recorded another grim record Monday. Nearly 2600 people are now being hospitalized for COVID-19, a number experts fear will grow dramatically in the next few weeks.

“What more can our hospitals take, what more can our healthcare providers take,” said Judy Smith of the Alabama Department of Public Health. “I’ll be honest, I’m not sure what we need to say at this point. It has been a horrific December.”

For months now, health experts have been warning of a surge in coronavirus patients that could overwhelm the region’s healthcare system if the public doesn’t follow CDC protocols – avoiding travel and social gatherings this holiday season. Instead, the TSA reported nearly 1.3 million travelers passing through security checkpoints this past Sunday, the most since the pandemic began.

“If you did spend Christmas with your loved ones, please do not spend New Year’s,” pleaded Decatur Morgan Hospital President Kelli Powers.

Across the Huntsville Hospital System Monday, 491 patients were in the hospital with COVID-19. Of those, 118 were in the ICU. Meanwhile, health experts are warning of a surge on top of a surge, potentially leaving hospitals without enough staff to care for every patient.

“I’m anticipating really bad things to come in the next week to two weeks from Christmas,” Powers added.

Decatur Morgan Hospital currently has 92 staff members in quarantine. UAB Hospital has also been feeling the strain of a tidal wave of COVID-19 patients, coupled with a significant staff shortage.

“When they’re infected they can’t come to work, and so that has impacted our staffing adversely,” said Dr. Sarah Nafziger of UAB Hospital.

Doctors are pointing to the COVID-19 vaccine as a light at the end of the tunnel, but said it will still be some time until it’s available to the masses. Decatur-Morgan Hospital received a new shipment of 1,800 Moderna vaccines, which it will begin distributing to front-line workers and at-risk members of the public on Wednesday.

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