Despite half of all eligible Alabamians being vaccinated, state records more deaths than births
Last week, Alabama's leading health official announced a new record set by the state, and it is a grim one. According to recently released numbers, 2020 was the first year in "The Heart of Dixie's" history where more deaths than births were recorded.
State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris held a press briefing last Friday to update the public on the latest health data. During the conference, Harris detailed the birth and death rates for last year and provided pandemic-related context for them.
Based on numbers from the Alabama Department of Public Health, there were 64,714 deaths and 57,641 births in 2020. According to Harris, the state has never seen a birth-death ratio of last year's proportions. And the state has been monitoring those numbers for more than 100 years. Even during World War I, World War II, and the flu pandemic of 1918, deaths in Alabama did not exceed births.
“That’s never happened before, nor has it ever even been close before,” explained Harris. “[During] World War Two, or during the flu pandemic of 1918, or World War One, we’ve never had a time where deaths exceeded births until this past year."
The official birth and death figures come from hospitals across the state, who are required by law to catalogue instances of both. The Alabama Hospital Association then collects those numbers and submits them to the Alabama Department of Public Health. Harris noted that there is often a discrepancy between Alabama Department of Public Health's statistics and the hospital association's, since ADPH's processing and verification of the numbers takes nearly a year. The implication is that both numbers will continue to rise as more data is processed.
Harris provided some context for the record-setting stats by noting that Alabama is experiencing double digit COVID-related deaths each day. The total number of deaths per day in Alabama has been ranging from 40 to 60 in recent months and the state's health department thinks that 2021 may set another birth-death record, even though roughly half of the Alabama's eligible population has already been fully vaccinated.
"It’s certainly possible that [record-breaking numbers] could happen this year as well if we continue in the same rate that we’re seeing now," said Harris.
During the presser, the health director struck a tone of optimism while covering the declining number of COVID-related hospitalizations in the state, but tempered that data with news that the state continues to struggle to accommodate patients in need of critical care.
“We still have more patients requiring critical care than we have critical care beds,” Harris said. “That number was actually down to 11 more yesterday, that’s certainly better than it’s been, but it still means we don’t have any available ICU beds in Alabama.”
As of last week, data from the Alabama Hospital Association, showed that the state had 1,580 ICU patients, but only 1,569 staffed ICU beds. Although the numbers indicate that the state does have some available intensive care beds, the numbers are disturbingly close. The hospital association also reports that 46 percent of patients occupying ICU beds have tested positive for COVID-19.
The press conference was not all doom and gloom, however. Harris did credit state residents for continuing to "do a pretty good job” with vaccinations.
“We’re pleased that we’re improving,” Harris said. “We have a long way to go.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alabama has slowly climbed the ranks from having the least number of fully-vaccinated citizens by percentage, to now being the state with the fourth-lowest percentage (41%). West Virginia, Wyoming and Idaho, are the only states with fewer fully-vaccinated residents.