Hospitals in the lovingly dubbed “Redneck Riviera” along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico are running out of critical care beds for coronavirus patients following a summer of partying, tourism and basically just trying to get back to normal.
The swath of coastline between Florida’s Emerald Coast and the shoreline of Alabama has become a pandemic hotspot, health officials say.
In Alabama’s Mobile County, the positivity rate has skyrocketed to nearly 30%, and the county has the most new cases in the state.
“After Memorial Day it was, ‘Everything is back to normal, go to the beach, take off your mask,’” said Dr. Bert Eichold, chief public health official of Mobile County, just west of Gulf Shores.
While urging people to get vaccinated, state leaders including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey have resisted imposing new restrictions, even as hospital beds fill up and the delta variant rages.
Beachgoers are shown on the coast at Gulf Shores, Alabama, on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021. (Associated Press)
ALABAMA OUT OF ICU BEDS AMID COVID-19 SURGE
On Monday, officials said 1,560 patients needed intensive care treatment in Alabama, where hospitals only have 1,562 ICU beds.
“I think people are kind of over being afraid and so they’ve got to live their lives,” said Lisa Hastings, a Louisiana nurse vacationing in the area with her sisters. Hastings is vaccinated.
The area has some of the country’s lowest vaccination rates and while more people are choosing to get the shot, it hasn’t slowed the late summer spread much.
Workers from USA Health test a person for COVID-19 during a drive-up clinic in Mobile, Alabama, Aug. 12, 2021. (Associated Press)
Of 11 coastal counties in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, Okaloosa County in Florida has the region’s highest share of fully vaccinated residents at 41.3%, statistics show. Many are around one-third, and all are below the national average of nearly 51%.
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“We’re kind of getting patients from all over because everybody’s dealing with this increased strain,” said Natalie Fox, a nursing executive with USA Health in Mobile.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.