Administrators from Tuscaloosa's DCH Health System provided an update on the state of COVID-19 in its hospitals Wednesday morning, emphasizing the seriousness of the Delta variant and the severity of cases among younger age groups.

In a call hosted by the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama, DCH COO Paul Betz said that the current surge Tuscaloosa is facing doesn't see any signs of slowing down.

The first big takeaway from the update is that DCH has not yet surpassed its all-time January 2021 peak of 199 COVID-positive inpatients, although trends show the hospital is dangerously close to that point. Betz also noted that even with fewer total COVID patients in their hospitals, this surge has led to more patients than ever being admitted to intensive care units.

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Betz said one of the most troubling trends the system has seen over the past 90 days and especially the last 30 is that more and more relatively young patients are dying from COVID complications at DCH hospitals.

The vast majority of the deaths reported at DCH facilities have involved patients who were 65 or older, but in the last 30 days, more than half of all COVID-related deaths came from patients younger than 64, including serious spikes in fatalities among patients younger who were between the ages of 25 and 49.

"The point is, y'all, that younger and younger people are dying from this through this recent surge in the pandemic," Betz said. "It's really, really kind of scary."

He said that the younger patients currently in the ICU may be able to fend off the virus for longer because of their stronger immune systems. However, when a patient's body "gives up," as Betz put it, their health declines extremely rapidly.

Betz also re-emphasized the importance of taking the COVID-19 vaccine. He reported that while over 75 percent of patients 65 and older have been vaccinated, under 37% of patients ages 30-49 have done the same.

"The thing that we have to take away from all of this is that the vaccine works," Betz said. "The correlation between the illness rates and the vaccination status is a direct correlation."

He said DCH has seen an uptick in vaccine appointments since the Pfizer vaccine was granted full FDA approval and while that has held true, it's not as high as he hoped.

However, DCH is continuing to administer vaccines through its mobile site by the hospital. On September 3, Betz said the site dolled out nearly 600 doses, and over 300 people have already signed up to receive their shot for the next round this Friday.

“We need it to be more," Betz said. "We need to be challenged with expanding that vaccine facility back to what it was before.”

Betz also noted that vaccination rates have risen admirably among the systems own staff -- in an early August report, he said vaccination rates among DCH staff were stagnating around 50 percent. After a month of offering staff extra time off and other incentives to take the vaccine, Betz said 67 percent of the system's staff have taken at least one dose of the vaccine.

As for the future, Betz said that he's very nervous about the influx of people coming to Tuscaloosa as The University of Alabama hosts its first home football game of the season this Saturday.

“This mutation of the virus is so much more contagious, it does worry me. It worries our staff, it worries our doctors," he said.

Betz urged everyone that could to talk to their healthcare providers about vaccine safety and eligibility to receive COVID-19 antibody infusions. He said to visit DCH Health System website to schedule a vaccine appointment.

Alabama COVID-19 Vaccine Breakdown (June 2021)

Each graphic shows how many people are vaccinated in all of Alabama's 67 counties, plus the percentage of vaccinated people versus that county's total population. This data was pulled from the Alabama Department of Public Health, county health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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