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‘There is no room to put these bodies,’ Alabama health official says as COVID-19 deaths climb

The rate of COVID-19 deaths has increased in 42 U.S. states in the last week, according to new data, as the spread of the more virulent coronavirus Delta variant has upended a spring of reopenings and led to increasing concern headed into autumn.

In 14 states, COVID-19 deaths increased by more than 50% over the past week, while another 28 states saw an uptick of at least 10%, data from Johns Hopkins University on Friday shows.

In Alabama, one of the hardest-hit states in the latest surge, overall hospitalization numbers continue to climb, driving health officials to use mobile trailers to house bodies because COVID-19 deaths are soaring, state health officer Dr. Scott Harris said Friday.

The state activated two of its four refrigerated trailers for the first time since the pandemic began, Harris said, in Mobile and Baldwin counties this week.

“These are typically held in case of a mass casualty event for example, when a large number of bodies appear at one time. This is actually a situation that is happening in Alabama hospitals now,” Harris said.

“We have enough people dying … that there is no room to put these bodies,” he added. “We are really in a crisis situation. … I don’t know how much longer we’re going to be able to do this.”

Alabama reported 50 COVID-19 related deaths Thursday and saw “double digit numbers of deaths” in the past two to three weeks, Harris said.

At least 5,571 Alabama children tested positive for COVID-19 last week, Harris said Friday, noting that officials aren’t sure where the children contracted the virus. The state currently has a 23% COVID-19 positivity rate, among the highest in the nation, Harris said.

Alabama is seeing a surge in pediatric cases from last year, Harris explained. Of the 2,879 people hospitalized with COVID-19 on Thursday, 45 of them are children, with at least five of them on ventilators, Harris said.

LOUISIANA HOSPITALS WON’T EVACUATE AHEAD OF IDA

As Hurricane Ida approaches the Gulf Coast, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a Saturday briefing there are 2,450 patients currently hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state, which is a drop of 20% in the past 10 days.

“That’s very helpful going into this hurricane, especially since we know that the evacuation of our hospitals is not an option,” said Edwards.

More than 475 of those patients are on ventilators, according to data from the state department of health.

Edwards told CNN’s Jim Acosta the hospitals have been stocking up on supplies and testing their generators ahead of the storm. FEMA has also brought in additional generators for the hospitals, he added.

“It’s going to be a real challenge and we’re likely to need some help with respect to our hospitals,” the governor said. “And then you have the people who may be injured as a result of the hurricane itself and so we need to make sure we have some capacity for them.”

All of the state’s parishes are in the highest risk category for coronavirus, with widespread, uncontrolled transmission and many undetected cases, the state health department said.

OXYGEN SUPPLIES RUNNING LOW IN THE SOUTH

As many hospitals across the country face a shortage of available beds and staff, there’s another concern in the South: a shortage of oxygen.

According to state health officials and hospital consultants, there are several hospitals across Florida, South Carolina, Texas and Louisiana that have experienced oxygen shortages, with some at risk of moving to their reserve supply or even running out of oxygen.

“As COVID has continued to evolve, we have continued to see COVID care best practices continue to evolve, and that in part has been the use of high-flow oxygen versus ventilators,” said Donna Cross, senior director of facilities and construction at Premier, a health care performance improvement company.

Cross told CNN that the spike in COVID-19 cases has caused more demand on the oxygen supply and hospitals cannot keep the pace.

CORONAVIRUS TRANSMISSION IS HIGH ACROSS THE COUNTRY

All 50 states have high rates of COVID-19 transmission, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday, as millions of children who are unable to be vaccinated return to school. The CDC identifies virus transmission to be high when the total new cases per 100,000 people in a 7-day period is 100 cases or more.

But only half of U.S. states — plus Washington, DC, — have fully vaccinated at least 50% of their residents. Those states include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington state and Wisconsin.

Across the country, roughly 32% of people ages 12 to 17 fully vaccinated, adolescents have been tough to vaccinate, but there are some highlights.

More than 86% of those ages 12 to 17 who received a first dose would later complete their vaccinations, which is necessary for optimal protection against the Delta variant, according to a CDC study.

The study stresses the importance of vaccinating eligible children and young people as schools return.

“Improving vaccination coverage and implementing COVID-19 prevention strategies are crucial to reduce COVID-19-associated morbidity and mortality among adolescents and to facilitate safer reopening of schools for in-person learning,” researchers wrote in the study.

COVID-19 IS HITTING SCHOOL STAFF AND STUDENTS

Back-to-school season has been devastating to some states and districts that are seeing a distressing number of students contract the virus. Preventative measures such as quarantining are happening nationwide.

In Mississippi, 28,990 students were quarantined between August 16 and 20 after possible exposure to COVID-19, according to data from the state’s department of health, up from the 20,334 students who quarantined from August 9 to 13.

It’s unclear how many of those are new student quarantines, or students who have had to remain quarantined from the prior week. Schools report numbers, not the names, of those quarantined, according to the department of health.

A total of 11,766 students and 2,383 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 in Mississippi schools since the beginning of August when schools began, health officials said.

In California, the Los Angeles Unified School District reported 2,847 active COVID-19 cases among students and staff across all as of Friday evening, according to the district’s dashboard. The district said that as of Tuesday, 3,000 students and 500 employees were required to isolate at home while 3,500 students and 500 employees had to quarantine at home.

The second largest district in the country enacted some of the strongest mitigation measures throughout its more than 1,000 schools. But officials remain on guard about the spread.

“We anticipate an upward trend in outbreaks as our schools have reopened, but we’re continuing to work hard to prevent, investigate and manage them as they happen,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said during a weekly briefing on Thursday.

HEALTH CARE REASOURCES ARE STRETCHED THIN FOR NON-COVID-19 PATIENTS

As increases in COVID-19 cases persist, medical attention for other health needs is being curtailed.

Three Ohio Health hospitals decided to temporarily pause elective surgeries that require an overnight stay due to an influx of Covid-19 hospitalizations, spokesperson Colin Yoder told CNN in a statement Friday. The move, effective Monday, frees hospital capacity and staff, he explained.

“Due to the fluid nature of this fourth surge, we will continually monitor capacity and pause or resume elective surgeries with an overnight stay as needed,” Yoder said.

Difficulties in maintaining a high level of health care are not limited to staffing issues. There has also been a shortage in the monoclonal antibody treatment used to treat both hospitalized COVID-19 patients and those with serious chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.

The treatment Actemra was granted emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in June to treat those with COVID-19. The medication reduces inflammation that can make patients sicker. It is regularly used for those with rheumatoid arthritis, yet Genentech, the company that makes Actemra, doesn’t have enough for everyone who needs it.

Last week, the company said demand for the drug went up more than 400% beyond pre-COVID-19 levels, in a span of two weeks. Supplies of several dose levels of the medicine have been out of stock in the U.S. since last Monday.

On Thursday, Genentech told customers it’s “working as urgently as possible to expedite replenishments and increase manufacturing capacity and supply wherever possible.”

The company said the medicine should be available for distribution starting Monday, but “given continued tight supply, Genentech anticipates additional intermittent periods of stockouts in the months ahead if the pandemic continues at the current pace.”

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