Alabama’s beloved Emerald Coast, known affectionately as the “Redneck Riviera,” is now a hotspot for the coronavirus, helping send ICU occupancy rates through the roof in the past several days.
As of Wednesday night there were “negative 29” intensive care unit beds available, according to the Alabama Hospital Association and the Alabama Department of Public Health. That ominous statistic means there were 29 more patients in need of ICU care than there were beds available in the state of Alabama.
AHA President Donald Williamson told WSFA 12 News this week “We’ve never been here before. We are truly now in uncharted territory in terms of our ICU bed capacity.”
However, patients who require intensive care treatment but are unable to get into an ICU bed are still receiving ICU-level care, albeit in a different part of the hospital.
As of Tuesday of this week, he stated, only 12% of patients in the state’s hospitals were fully vaccinated. “This could’ve been prevented if we’d gotten vaccination numbers to higher levels,” he declared.
The coastal counties of the state, along the beautiful, sandy shores of the Gulf of Mexico, lead the state in the number of new coronavirus cases, leading to the canceling of some events in neighboring Florida and Louisiana.
Coronavirus spike in Alabama due to low vaccination rate, tourism
As expected, the state’s health officials blame the spike on a combination of several factors, including some of the nation’s lowest vaccination rates, tourism that is running at full tilt, a disregard for what are considered basic health precautions and the region’s well-known laid-back lifestyle.
On the sunny shores of what is lovingly referred to as the “Redneck Riviera” — the towns along the northern Gulf Coast — the beaches, bars and stores are still packed with vacationers. However, just a few miles away from there, hospitals are now out of critical care beds.
Officials say that their hospital rooms are now full of unvaccinated people who are fighting for their lives.
On maps that show virus hot spots in red, this part of the United States is as red as an apple. A Summer vacation season with restaurants, bars and beaches that were packed full of people who had become fed up with last year’s lockdowns is showing no signs of slacking off, despite the oncoming start of the school year.
Health officials believe the spike is due to a combination of some of the nation’s lowest vaccination rates, unabated tourism, a disregard for basic health precautions and the region’s carefree lifestyle.
All these factors combine to make a scenario that is extremely troubling for health officials. The Delta variation of the coronavirus is much more virulent than the original strain, as has been proven in many studies; however the riding tide in infections has done little to sway Alabamians to become vaccinated — or even to wear masks voluntarily.
The National Shrimp Festival, held on the Riviera every year, which expects to draw as many as 250,000 people, is still planning to make a comeback this October.
Meanwhile, South Baldwin Regional Medical Center is now treating more than three dozen coronavirus patients, nearly 90% of whom have not received a vaccination, according to spokesperson Taylor Lewis.
Dr. Bert Eichold, the chief public health official of Mobile County, just west of Gulf Shores, Alabama, told the Associated Press “After Memorial Day it was, ‘Everything is back to normal, go to the beach, take off your mask.” Mobile County’s positivity rate has now spiked to a whopping 30%; it now has the most new cases in the state.
Th situation is the result of many people simply becoming fed up with dealing with the ramifications of the virus, according to Lisa Hastings, who is an RN and a Louisiana native. On a trip to the Alabama coast with her two sisters, she was asked how she viewed the attitude she sees around her there.Although professing to be a bit taken aback by the devil-may-care behavior as a nurse, she admits she can understand where people are coming from.
“I think people are kind of over being afraid and so they’ve got to live their lives,” Hastings, who is vaccinated, tells the Associated Press. Indicative of some of the attitudes seen all around the country among those who refuse to get a vaccine, an Illinois tourist opened that the pandemic is fake and that the inoculation campaign is just another method for the government to take control of its citizens.
At the Flora-Bama, an enormous beachfront bar, the music is pumping and patrons are living it up in the blazing Gulf sunshine. Bands continue to play to huge, alcohol-fueled crowds, few of whom are masked.
There have been ramifications, even along the Gulf beaches, however, as when Lulu’s, the restaurant owned by singer Jimmy Buffett’s sister, was forced to shut down recently because so many of its workers had tested positive.
Nearby, Justin Smith, the manager of The Dock, another beachfront restaurant, says, when asked if he would require his workers to become vaccinated, “I’ve been here 18 years. It ain’t gonna happen.”
However, Panama City Beach, Florida, canceled an annual country music festival which had been set for early September; the nearby city of New Orleans has canceled many different events and stated that all visitors to the Super Dome must be vaccinated.
While they continue to urge their citizens to get the vaccine, state leaders in the South, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, have shied away from imposing new restrictions, despite the ICU catastrophe that is taking place in Alabama.
DeSantis is now facing an ugly backlash after a photo of a female coronavirus patient curled up on a healthcare center’s floor while she awaited treatment went viral on social media.
First Coast News reports that the city of Jacksonville confirmed the Wednesday photo was indeed real. However, it was not taken at a Florida hospital but at a library which was serving as a treatment center for monoclonal antibodies. For now, Florida hospitals are not over capacity.
Last week, hospital executives gathered together in Pensacola to beg that the public receive their vaccinations and to decry all the rumors that have circulated about vaccines and masks. In the heavily evangelical Christian South, Mayor Grover C. Robinson IV spoke directly to churchgoers to become immunized.
“Two of our hospitals are Christian affiliated,” he stated. “One of the first things it says all throughout the Bible is, ‘Do not be afraid.’”
And indeed the vaccination rates are now beginning to climb again — although there is still a long way to go, and there are no more ICU beds to go around in Alabama. \
Many of the coastal counties in Alabama show that only one-third of their residents have received their full series of inoculations; all are below the national average of nearly 51%.
Natalie Fox, a nurse who works as an executive for USA Health in Mobile, told I interviewers that medical workers are exhausted after more than a year of battling the pandemic.
“We’re getting them from all over. Everybody’s dealing with this increased strain,” she says.
Some Alabamians have seen the handwriting on the wall, however, and are hurrying to get their shots. Rhonda Landrum saw all three of her unvaccinated daughters contract the disease. Although a health care worker herself, she had resisted getting her inoculation until her daughters came down with Covid-19.
Now, she says, she understands that people are not taking the pandemic seriously. At this point, she admits that it’s not safe to be out in public unvaccinated.
“I won’t travel nowhere,” she tells interviewers. “I stay home.”