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Gulf coast hospitals deal with crush of omicron COVID patients


Alabama health officials compare the spread of the new omicron variant of COVID-19 to a spreading wildfire.

Along the Alabama Gulf coast, that fire may have started as Alabamians began their Christmas holiday. Daily new cases of COVID-19 in Alabama have hit above 8,000 per day. That’s the highest numbers in the state since the pandemic began. The positivity rate is 41 percent and physicians like Fairhope family doctor Craig Bowden are in the thick of it.

“We started seeing more people the week of Christmas,” Bowden said. “We've been doing afternoon clinics in our parking lot for what seems like forever. We started having some positive tests come back Christmas week. New Year's week we were testing 20 or 25 people a day and coming back with 10 to 15 positive tests every day."

Bowden said one possible of upside that the country is getting closer to herd immunity that could shorten the severity of the Coronavirus. Alabama’s healthcare industry is also dealing with a nursing shortage that started last summer.

Donna Nolte is the director of nursing and support services at Thomas Hospital in Fairhope. She said that continues to make it difficult to fill shifts.

"On top of that, we're having issues with a lot of staff being out with community exposure to COVID, so they're also out,” Nolte said. “That adds another layer of complexity to the short-staffed situations.”

Nolte says there is also a shortage of monoclonal antibody treatments. So, the infusions are going to those at the highest risk. Healthcare providers point out this therapy doesn’t appear to work against Omicron.

Lynn Oldshue is a reporter for Alabama Public Radio.
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