Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, health officials have sounded the alarm that there would be a second or even third wave.
They were right.
While cases are surging nationwide, including Alabama, there is hope two vaccines will be available as soon as mid-December.
But there won’t be a magic bullet. The general public might not be able to get a vaccine until summer as health care workers and high-risk elderly are first in line.
Also, the surge currently underway will likely rise as the weather cools and a Thanksgiving spike is expected to last throughout the holidays.
Officials at the weekly virus update provided a grim outlook for the near future as hospitalizations are trending up at an “alarming rate’’ and straining front-line workers.
“Our issue is not going to be space,’’ said Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers. “We’ve got a lot of big facilities and we’ve got a lot of places to put people.
“Our issue is going to be staff.’’
According to Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong, there are currently 235 health care providers out “because they’ve either contracted COVID or they’re displaying symptoms.’’
As of Thursday morning there were a total of 260,359 confirmed virus cases and 3,766 deaths in the state. Those numbers stood at 14,253 and 153 in Madison County.
Huntsville Hospital facilities in Decatur and Marshall County are running out of space and elective surgeries have once again been suspended.
“Our physicians, our nurses, the folks that are keeping our hospitals clean are doing a phenomenal job,’’ Strong said. “But I’m telling you right now — we’re not to the end of this road, and we want to be sure not to scare the public, but this is real.
“This is the most real situation of our generation. We’ve got to take it seriously.”
Spillers said about 12 percent of those hospitalized with COVID-19 die, which could create a morbid situation if the toll of deaths spikes. Huntsville Hospital’s morgue holds 10 bodies and, if necessary, a makeshift morgue might have to be added outside the building.
“The funeral homes cannot process people quickly enough so you create a bottleneck and when you create a bottleneck it’s just like a traffic jam,’’ he said.
“It’s a terrible thing to happen, but at the rate we’re going it could likely happen here.’’
One positive is Huntsville Hospital has the refrigeration equipment needed to store the vaccines, which require Arctic-like temperatures. But when the vaccines start arriving, the virus won’t suddenly disappear.
“The two vaccines that we’re made aware of right now are two-dose vaccines,” Huntsville-Madison County Emergency Management Agency Director Jeff Birdwell said. “You take the first dose, then it’s 21 days later that you take the second dose.
“Then there’s a period of time where even after that second dose that immunity has to take place through that process. So just that process, you’re looking at over a month for just that person. So it’s not going to happen quickly.”