MONTGOMERY, Ala. - A top Alabama health official said the state cannot physically keep up with the rising COVID-19 death toll.
For the first time since the start of the pandemic, the state activated two of its four refrigerated trailers in Mobile and Baldwin counties.
"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," Dr. Scott Harris said during a news conference this week.
"We have enough people dying in such numbers at these locations that there is no room to put these bodies," he added. "We are really in a crisis situation."
According to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, more than 12,000 residents have died since the start of the pandemic and more than 688,000 people have tested positive.
The state’s 7-day average positivity rate stands at 22.6%.
Harris urges people to get vaccinated. More than 1.7 million residents have been fully vaccinated. But the state does have one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.
The state is also seeing a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases in school-age children, an increase officials say is likely fueled by the highly contagious delta variant and is causing some schools to temporarily switch to remote learning.
The Alabama Department of Public Health said Thursday that 5,571 children ages 5 to 17 were reported to have contracted COVID-19 last week. That compares to 702 cases in school-aged children during the same week last year, when more than half of students were studying remotely and the delta variant was not circulating.
"The numbers are staggering," Harris said of the increase. "We want to remind people that everyone needs to be vaccinated who is eligible, that is everyone 12 and up. We strongly recommend universal masking in schools."
Of the nearly 2,900 patients in state hospitals with COVID-19 on Thursday, fewer than 50 were children, according to the Alabama Hospital Association. State health officials have said about 6% of infected children develop the lingering symptoms known as "long COVID."
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.