The Alabama Department of Public Health reported a record-high number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 in the state Monday and health officials warn that hospitals and staff could soon be overwhelmed if new cases surge following the Thanksgiving holiday.

With 104 Alabama hospitals reporting, 1,717 total patients were hospitalized with the virus Monday.

According to the ADPH COVID-19 Dashboard, this is the highest-ever number since the pandemic reached the state in March, eclipsing a record set on August 6th, when 1,603 were hospitalized statewide.

In Tuscaloosa's DCH System, 18 new inpatients were reported on Monday and 91 the system's Tuscaloosa and Northport locations reported 91 total patients confirmed to be COVID-positive.

Andy North, DCH's Vice President of Communication, warned that hospitals could expect several spikes in the weeks and months to come as people continue to travel throughout the holiday season.

"We've been asking patients where they have been to see if there's any sort of trend, but we're not seeing any," said North. "What we know from the virus is that it usually takes about four days to two weeks before we really start to see the need for inpatient care, so that's when we'll be able to tell the effects of the Thanksgiving holiday."

North said he expects another surge in cases deeper into the holiday season as area residents continue to travel to visit families and friends and colder weather translates to more time spent indoors in close-quarter spaces.

At DCH, several rooms have been converted to be flexible during surge periods. North said normal rooms are made into isolation space by removing windows and implementing special air filters but can be converted back when a non-COVID patient is admitted.

North said that at any given point, DCH can see a wave of non-COVID patients fill up individual rooms, which limits the staff's ability to properly treat COVID patients. The inverse is true during periods with a higher-than-usual COVID-positive population -- less manpower is available for patients seeking care for other conditions or elective prodcedures.

"First and foremost, wear a mask, practice social distancing, wash your hands and surfaces frequently," North said. "If at all possible avoid gatherings. I know it's a difficult thing to ask since right now is the time to focus on family, but try and figure out alternative methods to connect with family that don't require in person visits if possible."

The FDA will review Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine for possible emergency use authorization on December 17th, but North said even if it passes muster, it will likely be months before Tuscaloosa could see a vaccine widely distributed at the local level.

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