Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said Thursday that the spike in new COVID-19 cases over the last two weeks is not totally attributable to increased testing and that the Alabama Department of Public Health believes there is ongoing, widespread community transmission of the virus.
“We’re extraordinarily concerned about the numbers that we have been seeing,” Harris said. “We know that ADPH and partners we work with have managed to increase the number of tests we’re doing throughout the state, but that doesn’t account for the case numbers that we’re seeing, or certainly doesn’t completely account for it.”
Harris said the state has identified a number of growing hotspots, including in Montgomery County, Tuscaloosa County and Walker County, where spikes in cases are not attributable to increased testing but rather outbreaks connected to businesses, nursing homes and widespread community transmission.
“We know that we continue to have community transmission going on in many parts of the state,” Harris said on a Facebook town hall with U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell. “We certainly identified many hotspots. …Sometimes we understand the reasons. Sometimes we do not. But clearly there’s a lot of disease transmission still going on.”
Harris said the increased daily case counts — which are increasing faster than 46 other states — should serve as a reminder that social-distancing recommendations must be followed, people must wear masks when out in public and people should avoid large crowds, even if those actions are not mandated by the government.
“Now more than ever, now that people are out in public, this is the time when they really need to follow those rules, those guidelines,” Harris said. “We need people to stay six feet apart, or more, from folks who aren’t in their own household. When people are going out into public, and particularly in indoors, perhaps into businesses or in other places, where they’re mixing with other people, face coverings, mask of some kind, are imperative and absolutely everyone needs to do that.”
The state health officer, who leads Alabama’s Department of Public Health, said the state was very concerned by photos and videos of massive crowds not wearing masks on Alabama’s beaches and Gulf restaurants over Memorial Day weekend.
“We did not like that at all,” Harris said. “I had conversations with local officials there about them and they certainly recognize and understand the dangers of that as well. They have done their best to use law enforcement to try to enforce that to the extent they can. But ultimately, we need the public to accept this. And to do this, we need the public to buy in and understand.”
Over the past two weeks, Alabama has confirmed an additional 5,080 cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases up to 16,181. About a third of the state’s cases have been confirmed in the two weeks since the state relaxed restrictions on bars and restaurants on May 11.
Seven- and 14-day rolling averages, used to smooth out daily variability in reporting, are higher than during any point in the outbreak, meaning more new cases per day are being confirmed than ever before.
There has been no comparable increase in testing. Alabama broke 200,000 total tests performed on Thursday. But over the past 14 days, about 4,004 tests per day have been performed, on average. Over the previous 14-day period, ending May 14, the average number of tests per day was roughly the same at 4,032.
Meanwhile, the percent of tests that are positive has been rising after dropping to as low as 3 percent on May 1, based on 7-day averages of increases in tests and cases. The same metric rose to 10 percent by Wednesday.
Over the last 14 days, at least 117 people have died from COVID-19. On Thursday, the number of deaths attributable to the virus rose to 590.
“Those numbers do sound like numbers, they’re statistics,” Harris said on another Facebook town hall with Sen. Doug Jones. “But it’s really important to remember that every one of those numbers is a person. They’re someone’s parent or child or brother or sister. And so we never want to lose sight of the fact that we are having Alabamians who are dying from COVID-19 disease.”
Harris said the rise in cases is worrisome, and the state expected some rise after lifting the state’s stay-at-home order and loosening restrictions on businesses and gatherings.
“We’re going to need people to be more careful than ever,” Harris said.
Harris repeatedly emphasized the importance of wearing masks when out in public and said maybe public health officials need to do more to emphasize the importance of masks.
“People feel like a mask just protects me, and if I’m not worried about getting sick, then why should I wear a mask?” Harris said. “But a mask is how you protect other people.”
A mask controls your own coughing or sneezing or other symptoms — or just transmitting it because you’re talking or yelling or spitting. Such precautions are important because at least a quarter of people and maybe as many as a third of people who are infected and can infect others won’t have any symptoms at all.
“So, it’s certainly possible that you can be infectious to other people and not even know it,” Harris said. “So that’s what a mask is for. A mask, in my mind, is good manners. A mask is how you show that you care about people in your family or in your community, particularly those people who are very vulnerable, or seniors or people with chronic health problems.”
Masks are also important even when not around vulnerable people because you could spread the virus to someone else, who then unwittingly could spread it to a nursing home or extended care facility.
In Tuscaloosa County, DCH Health System has seen the number of hospitalizations from COVID-19 more than double over the course of a week, in part because of an outbreak at a long-term care facility in the county and in part because of community spread, Harris said.
Similar outbreaks at long-term care facilities in Elmore County, Butler County and a workplace in Walker County and Franklin County have contributed to rising numbers, Harris said.
“Some of those are outbreaks,” Harris said, “and yet again, those are still attributable to community spread. The people in the nursing home didn’t go out into the community and catch it. Someone brought it into them. There has to be transmission going on in the community for that to happen. We need to find a way to get people to take this seriously.”
Harris said the Department of Public Health is not aware of any particular origin for the rising cases in Montgomery County, however, and that officials believe the rise is largely due to widespread community transmission and in part due to increased testing.
But the increase in cases also accompanies a rise in the percent of tests that are positive in Montgomery County, despite increased testing there. There has been some controversy about Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed saying no ICU beds were available in the city, but Harris said he was “absolutely correct.”
“There were no ICU beds available,” Harris said. “We talked to the hospitals immediately upon learning about that. I think their response was that that’s correct. However, they do have some internal capacity, when they need to do it, to expand the space that they have available and take care of critically ill patients.”
In Montgomery, that has involved treating critically ill patients in emergency rooms and retrofitted ICU units, a Montgomery area doctor told APR earlier this week. But there remains a shortage of ICU beds.
“I think that the message that we want to be careful about putting out there is: clearly those hospitals have higher numbers, they have you know their normal beds filled, and yet the public sometimes hears that and thinks well if I have a heart attack, I don’t have a place to go or they’re going to turn me away if I show up because the hospital’s full, and that’s not the case,” Harris said. “And so we want people to understand they certainly still can continue to seek care, just as they always would for any kind of a problem. They should do that. They certainly shouldn’t try to sit at home if they’re concerned about a certain thing.”
But if numbers continue to rise, the situation could become a dire problem.
“If numbers go up, they can’t do that forever, and then we’ll have to have to make other arrangements,” Harris said.
Stay safe but don’t delay cancer treatment or screenings, UAB doctors warn
Healthcare workers are seeing fewer people getting routine cancer screenings for fear of coming into contact with the novel coronavirus. With no end to the pandemic in sight, doctors are urging people to get screened and move forward with treatment if they have a diagnosis.
Not delaying treatment is of paramount importance, said Barry Sleckman, director of the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
“If you have a cancer diagnosis, you need to do everything possible to work with your physician to initiate treatment in a safe environment,” he said.
Sleckman said that steps are being taken to ensure the safety of patients who may be anxious about visiting a hospital and being exposed to the virus. Visits are being done by telemedicine, or video tools that are HIPAA compliant, if an in-person exam is not required.
Monica Baskin, a professor in UAB’s Division of Preventive Medicine, said that her colleagues around the state are hearing from people who are afraid to make physical visits. They are advising people to contact their local healthcare providers first to determine the best course of action, and to learn what specific steps their local cancer center is doing to keep patients safe.
Rates of screenings have been trending downward nationally, according to the National Cancer Institute. Alabama does not keep a statewide database, but workers in the field say they have noticed a reduction over the last three months – much of it in medically underserved communities that experience higher rates of cancer.
Investigators at the NCI recently created a detailed national model of breast and colorectal cancers showing that more than 10,000 people might die over the next 10 years due to delayed cancer screenings because of the pandemic. Most of the deaths would occur in the next two years, according to the projections.
About 26,000 Alabamians are diagnosed with cancer each year, according to the American Cancer Society.
People with cancer and other conditions that make them immunocompromised are especially vulnerable, but Sleckman urged caution among everyone else who are making decisions based on what risk factors they think they may not have. The scientific community is still trying to figure out how the virus behaves, and death or recovery aren’t the only possible outcomes.
Strokes have been seen in younger people who are infected, and scientists are warning of serious brain damage occurring in some patients who only experience mild symptoms while they are sick. It’s on everyone to slow the spread in order to protect others because there’s no telling how the virus will affect one person to the next.
“As a very good friend of mine who’s an infectious disease physician said, ‘The only thing we really know about this virus is it’s not good to have it,’” Sleckman said.
Alabama lawmaker suggests more should become infected with COVID-19
The leader of Alabama’s State Senate suggested to a reporter that he’d actually like to see more people become infected to build the state’s overall immunity to the virus, a claim that would require thousands more deaths to become a reality.
East Alabama Medical Center’s critical care beds on Thursday were at 90 percent capacity, and COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide on Thursday were at another record high for the fifth straight day. Administrators at EAMC sounded the alarm Thursday that if things don’t change soon, the exponential growth of COVID-19 cases could stress the hospital to the breaking point.
UAB Hospital’s COVID-19 intensive care and acute care units were approaching their existing capacity Tuesday, when the hospital was caring for 92 coronavirus patients. The hospital had 91 inpatients who had been diagnosed with COVID-19 on Wednesday. Jefferson County has added more than 1,000 COVID-19 cases over the last week.
Alabama has experienced numerous record increases in cases and hospitalizations in the last several weeks, as the state continues to grapple with a growing pandemic and stressed hospitals.
Despite that, the leader of Alabama’s State Senate — and member of Gov. Kay Ivey’s COVID-19 task force — suggested to a reporter that he’d actually like to see more people become infected to build the state’s overall immunity to the virus.
The state’s top health officials suggested Thursday that doing so would lead to unnecessary deaths.
Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, told CBS 42’s Reshad Hudson that he’s not concerned with the growing number of COVID-19 cases.
“I’m not concerned so much at the number of cases. In fact, quite honestly, I want to see more people because we start reaching an immunity, if more people have it and get through it,” Marsh said.
“I don’t want any deaths. As few as possible. I get it,” Marsh said, adding that we need to do all we can to protect those with preexisting conditions and the elderly. “But I’m not concerned. I want to make sure that everybody can receive care, but right now, to my knowledge as of today we still have ample beds.”
Marsh has said in interviews this week that he doesn’t predict a statewide mask order or a return to the restrictions that data shows slowed the virus’s growth.
State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris was asked by a CBS42 reporter about Marsh’s statement encouraging more infections.
“There is absolutely no reason to think at this point that getting infected will give you any degree of immunity. We simply don’t know that,” Harris said.
“We’ve looked at countries like Sweden, who have tried to actually generate herd immunity among their population, and it’s been disastrous. They’ve had increased numbers of deaths much higher than their neighbors, in trying to keep their economy open. It does not work well at all,” Harris said.
In Sweden, one study found that after months of infections and deaths, less than 10 percent of the population had developed antibodies to the virus. Public health experts believe at least 60 percent of the population would need to be infected for a population to reach herd immunity.
In reality, reaching a level of herd immunity that would be high enough to slow transmission would require tens of thousands more infections and thousands more deaths.
“The way to prevent illness and death, and to keep the economy open, quite frankly, is to keep people from getting this disease,” Harris said. ‘We need people to wear face coverings, to wash their hands, to stay home when they’re sick and to practice social distancing.”
Harris told CBS 42 that the state’s availability of ICU beds was at its lowest point since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of around 1,400 ICU beds, less than 200 were available Thursday, he said.
Because of Sweden’s decision to attempt herd immunity, deaths in country have been eight times higher than in Denmark and 19 times higher than in Norway, according to The Washington Post.
Sweden has seen 543 deaths per million of its population, compared to just 105 per million in Denmark, according to the Worldometer.
“I believe we’re at another pivotal point,” said EAMC President and CEO Laura Grill in a statement Thursday. “We had flattened the curve in our community, but due to relaxed state orders and an unwillingness by some people to follow the three simple guidelines needed to help control COVID-19, we are almost back to square one. It’s frustrating and quite demoralizing to our staff and physicians, and those in our community who are following the rules.”
On Thursday 259 of EAMC’s 314 beds were occupied, six nursing units were at 100 percent capacity and 27 of the 30 critical care beds were in use.
“In other words, EAMC was having a ‘red census’ day for the second time this week. Patients with positive COVID-19 cases occupied 36 of the beds, with two other patients awaiting results,” the hospital said in a release.
The 36 COVID-19 patients was less than the hospital’s peak of 54 on April 11, but at that time the hospital had 164 total patients, and Thursday hospital staff were treating 100 more than that.
Grill noted the record-breaking number of new COVID-19 cases statewide on Thursday and called for the public to do what’s needed to slow the spread.
“This morning, Alabama announced 2,164 new cases in the past 24 hours—by far the most in a single day—and people are still debating the merits of wearing a mask, calling the virus a hoax and questioning qualified health officials on whether an asymptomatic person can spread the virus. It’s all very frustrating,” she said.
COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide on Thursday were 1,125, the highest it’s been since the start of the pandemic. Nine of the last 11 days the state has seen record high coronavirus hospitalizations.
Regional Medical Center in Anniston, Marsh’s hometown in Calhoun County, on Thursday was caring for 15 coronavirus patients, a record high for the hospital, according to The Anniston Star.
Calhoun County on Thursday added 33 new COVID-19 cases, which was the second-highest single day of new cases the county has seen since the pandemic began. In the last week the county added 156 cases, or 35 percent of the county’s total coronavirus cases.
Alabama reports record-breaking 2,164 new COVID-19 cases
Thursday’s number of new cases hit 2,164 and blew past the previous daily record set on July 3 by 406 cases.
New COVID-19 cases in Alabama on Thursday jumped by nearly double from the day before, and for the first time broke 2,000 in a single day, according to the latest data from the Alabama Department of Public Health.
Thursday’s number of new cases hit 2,164 and blew past the previous daily record set on July 3 by 406 cases. Both the seven-day and 14-day rolling average of new daily cases in Alabama were also at record highs Thursday.
Thirty-two percent of the state’s 48,588 cumulative confirmed cases have been added within the last two weeks.
The Alabama Department of Public Health did not publish Wednesday an update to the total number of tests performed, which throws off the day’s figures for the percentage of tests that are positive, but on average, over the last week, the state’s seven-day rolling average of percent positivity has roughly 15 percent.
Public health experts say the percent positivity should be at or below 5 percent — otherwise there isn’t enough testing being done and cases are going undetected.
Along with surging new cases, the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized on Wednesday was higher than it’s been since the beginning of the pandemic. On Wednesday 1,110 coronavirus patients were being treated in state hospitals, which was the fourth straight day of record current hospitalizations.
UAB Hospital’s COVID-19 Intensive care units were nearing their existing capacity Tuesday. The hospital has both a COVID ICU and a COVID acute care unit designated to keep patients separated from those who don’t have the virus, but it has more space in other non-COVID units should it need to add additional bed space.
Hospitals in Madison County this week are also seeing a surge of COVID-19 patients. Paul Finley, the mayor of the city of Madison, told reporters Wednesday that local hospitals were reporting record numbers.
Hospitals there were at 80 to 90 percent capacity.
“Our ambulances yesterday had their greatest number of runs since this started,” said Crestwood Hospital CEO Dr. Pam Hudson on Wednesday, adding that in about 20 percent of calls staff is having to wear full personal protective equipment. “That indicates that they are working with patients who have symptoms that could be compatible with COVID.”
Meanwhile, Madison County set a new daily record, adding 286 cases Thursday, the first time the county has surpassed 200 cases a day. The county was largely spared early on in the pandemic, with low case counts and low death rates, but roughly 42 percent of Madison County’s total case count since March has been reported in the last week as 803 new cases have been added.
Jefferson County and Madison County, over the last week, have accounted for 26 percent of the state’s new cases.
Jefferson County led the state in the most new cases Thursday with 343 and has added 1,498 cases in the last week. The county’s total cases increased by 33 percent from last week, and stood at 6,030 confirmed COVID-19 cases Thursday.
While Jefferson County and Madison County are seeing the state’s most intense increases, other large counties including Shelby County, Baldwin County and Tuscaloosa County have also seen record increases and rising percent positive rates.
At least 81 people have died from COVID-19 in the last week, and 162 people have died in the last two weeks.
At least 1,042 people have died from COVID-19 since March, and at least 26 other deaths are listed as “probable” COVID-19 deaths.
Alabama Innovation Fund, Auburn support development of saliva COVID testing device
The Alabama Department of Commerce and the City of Auburn’s Industrial Development Board have teamed to award $250,000 in funding to accelerate the development of OraSecure LLC’s breakthrough patent-pending saliva collection device intended to help in the ongoing battle against the novel coronavirus.
Support from the Alabama Innovation Fund and the City of Auburn will help OraSecure finalize the initial manufacturing run needed to begin mass producing its devices and complete validation with the FDA. Production of the devices will take place in Auburn.
“The Alabama Innovation Fund is a key component in our efforts to spark the creation of high-impact ’Made in Alabama’ products by stimulating breakthrough research,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “With this support, we are helping OraSecure speed the development of a specimen collection device that can make a difference in the pandemic response while simultaneously raising the state’s profile in the bioscience industry.”
For more information, see the attachment or click this link: https://www.madeinalabama.com/2020/07/orasecure_saliva_collection_device/