MONTGOMERY (AP) — The number of COVID-19 patients in Alabama hospitals climbed to more than 840 heading into the Fourth of July holiday weekend, the highest number since the pandemic began, as the number of reported infections continued to rise.

Alabama on Thursday reported an additional 1,200 cases, making it the third consecutive day of adding about 1,000 cases each day. There were 843 COVID-19 patients in state hospitals Thursday, the highest number since the outbreak began, said Dr. Don Williamson, the former state health officer who now heads the Alabama Hospital Association.

“It is very concerning,” State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said of the latest numbers.

“What we’ve witnessed each time we’ve seen these surges occur, we have had an increased number of cases that pop up for whatever reason, and then we begin to see, a few days or a week or so later, increases in hospitalizations. The pattern has been shortly after that we begin to see increased numbers of deaths,” Harris said.

Alabama has reported more than 41,360 cases of the new coronavirus since the pandemic began with almost 30% (12,273 cases) of infections being reported in the last two weeks, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

So far, 983 Alabamians have died after contracting the virus.

“Clearly, we are now in a dramatic upswing,” Williamson said of the latest case and hospitalization numbers.

Williamson said the state has about 16% of intensive care beds available, the lowest number vacant since the pandemic began. By comparison, in early April, the state had 35% of ICU beds available.

“The hospitals are managing, but the trends are accelerating,” Williamson said.

Health officials expressed worry the Fourth of July holiday weekend. The state saw an uptick in cases in the weeks following Memorial Day.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday extended the state’s “Safer at Home” order that, among other things, limits occupancy in stores and restaurants, limits nursing home visitation, prohibits non-work gatherings where social distancing can’t be maintained and requires safety measures at salons and other businesses.

“Let me urge you, in the strongest manner I can, to incorporate COVID-19 precautions into your daily routine,” Ivey said.

Harris urged people to not abandon precautions such as social distancing and wearing masks.

The Department of Public Health this week released color codings that list counties from low risk to very high risk. Harris said the codings are based on metrics to indicate the trajectory of cases over the last two weeks.

According to the Risk Dashboard, Lauderdale County has a high risk rating, which signifies case counts have decreased for the past 1 to 6 days.

For the last 14 days, Lauderdale has reported 205 confirmed cases. To date, there have been 473 confirmed cases in Lauderdale with six deaths.

Colbert County has a low risk rating, which is given to counties that have shown a downward trajectory in the number of cases reported for 14 or more days.

For the last 14 days, Colbert has reported 165 cases. To date, Colbert has reported 383 total cases with six deaths.

Colbert is one of only 5 counties in the state with a low risk rating.

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