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New COVID surge begins in Alabama, hospitalizations double in July – AL.com

Just over two weeks out from the Fourth of July holiday, the number of patients with COVID-19 in Alabama hospitals has more than doubled. Nearly every metric used to measure the pandemic is surging here as the state faces off with the more contagious Delta variant.

Data from the Alabama Department of Public Health shows a sharp increase in coronavirus inpatients in state hospitals, up to 469 patients on Monday. That’s a 130% increase since July 1, when 204 people were being treated for the virus in Alabama hospitals.

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Monday’s number was the highest total for hospitalizations in Alabama since March 10, when hospitalization and case numbers were on the tail end of the huge winter surge the state saw in December, January and February. At the peak of the pandemic during those months, Alabama’s hospitals were treating as many as 3,000 people per day.

Hospitalizations aren’t the only metric currently rising in Alabama.

The state’s coronavirus positivity rate – the percentage of tests performed that come back positive – is also surging. As of July 9, Alabama saw the fifth-highest positivity rate for PCR tests in the nation at 9%, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. As of July 16, the state’s positivity rate had risen to 12.4% – the highest it had been since Feb. 3.

That’s currently the fourth highest in the United States.

[Can’t see the chart? Click here.]

Alabama’s positivity rate for PCR tests crossed 10 percent on July 12, the first time it’s been that high since Feb. 10.

And Alabama isn’t alone. Positivity rates are rising throughout the nation, especially among states with low vaccination rates.

Alabama is dead last in the nation in terms of the percent of its population that is fully vaccinated at 33.7 percent as of Monday, just behind Mississippi at 33.8 percent.

At the other end of the spectrum, many states in New England have some of the highest vaccination rates in the country and the lowest positivity rates.

Use the buttons on the top of the map below to shift between positivity rate and vaccination rate.

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The South in general has lagged in vaccine rates, and many Southern states are now paying the price in higher positivity rates. Seven of the nine states with the highest positivity rates are in the South. Of those seven, five are also in the bottom 10 in the nation for vaccination rates.

Despite relatively low testing, cases in Alabama are also the highest they’ve been since mid-May, when a number of large backlogs caused a huge spike in the state’s 7-day average for new cases.

That average now stands at 815 cases per day. Outside of that May backlog, Alabama’s case count hasn’t been this high since March – though cases are still well below the highs seen here in December and January.

[Can’t see that chart? Click here.]

Despite the rise in cases and hospitalizations, Alabama has not seen a significant rise in coronavirus deaths. The state is averaging just under six virus deaths per day, and deaths here have been essentially flat for several months.

Deaths are a lagging indicator – they could go up in the coming weeks if hospitalizations and cases continue to increase. But there are some signs that the state’s death totals might not be as dire this time around, even if the state faces another virus surge. Though vaccination rates in Alabama overall remain low, older Alabamians – who are typically at increased risk – are far more likely to be vaccinated than anyone else.

More than 70% of Alabamians 65 and older have initiated a vaccine series, according to ADPH, meaning they have had at least one shot. That’s compared to less than a quarter of 18-29 year olds, and just 35% of 50-64 year olds.

Also, people who are vaccinated are much less likely to die than those who aren’t – in recent weeks, officials have reported 94% of Alabama COVID-19 hospitalizations were unvaccinated, and 96% of all COVID-19 deaths were unvaccinated. And experts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham said that the vaccines used in the U.S. are very effective at preventing serious illness and death, even from the new Delta variant.

Do you have an idea for a data story about Alabama? Email Ramsey Archibald at rarchibald@al.com, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyArchibald. Read more Alabama data stories here.

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