U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, on Thursday called on state leaders to tell the public the truth about COVID-19, that even though we’re reopening after restrictions meant to slow its spread, the virus is “real” and “deadly” and it’s still spreading.
“COVID in Alabama is still raging,” Jones said during a press conference Thursday.
Jones said the virus isn’t a political issue, and that there is still much we don’t know about what COVID-19 can do to the human body long-term. He also noted a surge in new cases and hospitalizations statewide in recent days.
Alabama added 882 cases on Thursday, the third highest daily count since the pandemic began.
Wednesday saw a new high in the number of people in hospitals being treated for COVID-19 — at 688. The previous high was Tuesday at 683.
The percentage of tests that are positive — a good indicator of whether the virus is continuing to spread or whether increasing testing is contributing to a rise in cases — remains very high as well, suggesting that the large increases over the past week and a half are not solely due to more tests being performed.
The 7-day rolling average positivity rate was roughly 14 percent on Wednesday, nearly double the amount that were positive two weeks ago. Taking into account incomplete data early on in the COVID-19 crisis, Tuesday and Wednesday’s positivity percentages were the highest since the pandemic began.
Fifty of Alabama’s 67 counties were categorized Thursday as having high rates of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.
On Tuesday, the state recorded the most COVID-19 patients ever being cared for across the state and, on the same day, had the fewest available intensive care beds since the pandemic began. The number of patients increased by Wednesday to a new high. Hospitalization numbers for Thursday are preliminary and may be revised upward.
“Our ICUs are at capacity,” said Dr. Nina Garrett at Baptist Health hospitals in Montgomery, speaking during the press conference Thursday.
Garrett also said all four of the intensive care units at Baptist Medical Center South are full, and that some patients are being kept in emergency rooms while on mechanical ventilation.
Garrett said while some continue to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to wear masks in public and practice social distancing, “unfortunately there are some who are not, and as a result we believe more community spread is happening because of that lack of wearing masks.”
Garrett commended Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed’s decision Wednesday to issue an executive order that will require masks to be worn when in public and around groups of 25 or more. The order goes into effect Friday at 5 p.m.
Reed’s decision came after the Montgomery City Council failed in a 4-4 vote to pass a mask ordinance.
“I do believe that will help to mitigate the spread of the disease,” Garrett said of Montgomery’s mask requirement. “It will also allow us as hospital workers a chance to catch a breath.”
Speaking about the possibility of an additional COVID-19 relief package, Jones said “it is still languishing.”
The U.S. House of Representatives, in early May, passed the $3 trillion Heroes Act but the Republican-controlled Senate hasn’t addressed the measure.
“It is not a perfect bill but it’s one that we need to be talking about,” Jones said. “It would provide additional money for hospitals. It would provide additional money for research and development, but it also provides money for cities and counties that are now really beginning to feel the pinch from lost revenues from April and May.”
Garrett closed the press conference by asking the public to care for themselves and others by washing their hands, wearing masks and by practicing social distancing.
“You’re valuing the life of someone else, as much as you do your own,” Garrett said. “And that is what community is. That’s what family is. That’s what society should be.”