Alabama is shrinking under the onslaught of Covid-19, its chief medical officer said, as deaths in the state outnumber births for the very first time.
Speaking to reporters in Montgomery on Friday, Dr Scott Harris said: “Here in Alabama, we continue to see deaths at a really high rate … 2020 is going to be the first year that we know of in the history of our state where we actually had more deaths than births.
“Our state literally shrunk in 2020, based on the numbers that we have managed to put together, and actually by quite a bit.”
Harris said Alabama had recorded a preliminary total of 64,714 deaths in 2020, compared with 57,641 births.
“We have data going back to the first decade of the 20th century, so more than 100 years, and that’s never happened before, nor has it ever even been close before. In world war two or during the flu pandemic of 1918, or world war one, we’ve never had a time where deaths exceed births until this past year.
“It’s certainly possible that could happen this year as well if we continue in the same rate that we’re seeing now.”
According to Johns Hopkins University, 13,210 people have died of Covid-19 in Alabama. The US death toll is more than 673,000, just short of official estimates for the US death toll in the pandemic of 1918.
Vaccination rates have increased as businesses and public authorities introduce mandates and strengthen outreach but resistance to the shots and other public health measures remains strong in Republican-controlled states, Alabama among them.
The infectious Delta variant continues to fuel high numbers of cases. The vast majority of hospitalisations and deaths in the US are among unvaccinated people.
Harris said more than 1.9 million Alabamians were now fully vaccinated, more than 50% of the eligible population.
But, he said, “We’re continuing to have double-digit numbers of deaths reported on most days … Over the past several days [we have had] typically 40 or 50 or sometimes 60 deaths a day.”
He said seven pregnant women in Alabama had died from Covid-19, adding: “We actually have, on average, for the past week about 23 pregnant women who are hospitalised with Covid.”
Harris said Alabama was “seeing a little bit of a decline in our total numbers of hospitalisations, that’s certainly a good thing”.
But, he said, “We still have more patients requiring critical care than we have critical care beds … we don’t have any available [intensive care] beds in Alabama.
“And that’s a really challenging problem just for people with non-Covid illnesses or people who have a stroke or heart attack or a car accident today. It’s going to be very challenging to figure out where you can get critical care if you need it.”
Harris added: “I would just say, very respectfully and with compassion, you know, there are two ways people leave the hospital and one of them is not very good.”