Members of Task Force 31, a U.S. military group that decontaminates long term care facilities, wear PPE in Huntsville, Alabama on March 6, 2020.
Members of Task Force 31, a U.S. military group that decontaminates long term care facilities, wear PPE in Huntsville, Alabama on March 6, 2020.
Photo: DVIDS/U.S. Air National Guard

Alabama is running out of ICU beds to treat coronavirus patients, according to the mayor of Montgomery, the second largest city in the state. The dire news comes as Alabama’s governor, Kay Ivey, continues to lift restrictions put in place last month to slow the spread of covid-19.

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“Right now, if you are from Montgomery and you need an ICU bed, you are in trouble,” Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed said at a press conference on Thursday.“If you’re from central Alabama, and you need an ICU bed, you may not be able to get one because our health care system has been maxed out.”

Mayor Reed went on to say that coronavirus patients in Montgomery are being diverted to Birmingham where there are still some ICU beds available. Part of the problem is that Montgomery is being overwhelmed with patients from rural parts of Alabama where ICU beds don’t exist.

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“Many people in Montgomery hospitals are not from Montgomery,” Reed said, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. “They’re suffering because they don’t have the rural health care system in place that they need.”

Alabama has currently identified at least 13,414 cases of coronavirus and 529 deaths from the disease, according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker. That’s up from a total of 9,385 cases and 383 deaths two weeks ago.

Alabama’s Jefferson County, which includes the city of Birmingham, has been hit particularly hard, with a 35 percent jump in coronavirus cases in the past two weeks, according to CNN.

Governor Ivey’s order for the people of Alabama to shelter in place came late and didn’t last long. The order went into effect on April 4 and many of the most stringent restrictions were already lifted on April 30. But Ivey was confident that when the restrictions were abolished hospitals in the state wouldn’t be overwhelmed. That proved to be an incorrect prediction.

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“As of this week, we no longer believe our hospitals will see an overwhelming amount of ICU patients who will need ventilators, and that is good news for sure,” Ivey said at the end of April.

Local news outlets in Alabama attribute some of the rise in cases to an increase in testing. And while that’s logical, it also doesn’t negate the fact that the U.S. is still experiencing an uncontrolled pandemic while many other countries have been able to get their number of cases under control. South Korea, Germany, and New Zealand have been world leaders in combatting coronavirus, saving many lives through early widespread testing, contact tracing, and strict lockdowns.

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The U.S. more broadly still has the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths in the world, with over 1.5 million cases identified and 94,729 deaths according to the Johns Hopkins tracker. A new study from Columbia University estimates that roughly 36,000 dead Americans could have been saved if the U.S. government acted sooner to combat the pandemic. In fact, that’s the number that could have been saved if lockdowns had been put in place just one week sooner, according to researchers.

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Yet, much like Alabama, the entire country is loosening restrictions despite not getting the pandemic under control. News outlets across the U.S. keep warning of a possible “second wave” that could emerge either this summer or in the fall, but many states are still seeing cases climb dramatically. It’s unclear how anyone can be talking about a “second” wave when the first wave never really subsided.

Even if there’s a so-called “second wave” President Donald Trump says he won’t encourage anymore lockdowns in an attempt to save lives.

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“We are going to put out the fires. We’re not going to close the country,” Trump said yesterday while touring a Ford plant in Michigan. “We can put out the fires. Whether it is an ember or a flame, we are going to put it out. But we are not closing our country.”

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog

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