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Alabama hospital ends elective surgeries over virus spike

December 17, 2020 GMT
A nurse dilutes and prepares the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic set up at the East Alabama Medical Center Education Center in Montgomery, Ala., on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. (Jake Crandall/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP)
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A nurse dilutes and prepares the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic set up at the East Alabama Medical Center Education Center in Montgomery, Ala., on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. (Jake Crandall/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP)
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A nurse dilutes and prepares the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic set up at the East Alabama Medical Center Education Center in Montgomery, Ala., on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. (Jake Crandall/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP)

DOTHAN, Ala. (AP) — A hospital serving southeastern Alabama said it would suspend elective surgeries beginning Thursday because of an increase in people needing treatment for COVID-19, which is overwhelming critical care facilities in the state.

Southeast Health, located in Dothan and serving much of the Wiregrass region, announced the cutback in a statement that included a plea for residents to wear face masks, keep their distance from others and wash their hands.

On Tuesday, two doctors at the hospital were the first health care workers in the state to receive vaccinations against the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

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Intensive care units statewide on Wednesday were the most crowded since the pandemic began in March, with just 7% of the state’s state’s roughly 1,700 beds available, according to the Alabama Hospital Association. Short of staff as COVID-19 cases increase, UAB Hospital said it is bringing in more than 120 nursing students and teachers to help.

A fast rise in cases combined with new infections that health officials believe are linked to Thanksgiving travel and gatherings is overwhelming hospitals, and some already had canceled elective surgeries and other procedures that require overnight stays.

More than 4,250 people have died of COVID-19 in the state, and more than 310,000 have tested positive, including nearly 4,700 new cases over the last day. More than 2,400 people are hospitalized with the illness.

Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by 1,135, a jump of 45%, and one in every 192 people in Alabama tested positive in the past week, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

While the illness causes minor to moderate symptoms in most people, it is particularly dangerous for the elderly and others with serious health problems.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/virus-outbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.