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Jefferson County mask order goes into effect Monday amid surge in COVID-19 cases

Eddie Burkhalter

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As new cases and hospitalizations of COVID-19 continue to surge in Jefferson County, the county’s health officer on Friday announced an order that will require people to wear masks while in public.

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson, in a press briefing Friday, said the mask order for the public will be effective as of 5 p.m. on Monday. 

All people over the age of 8 will be required to wear masks inside businesses that are open to the public and while taking public transportation, Wilson said. 

Outdoor spaces are not covered by the mask order, except for when more than 10 people gather outside, or when a person cannot maintain six feet of distance from others.

Places of worship and schools aren’t included in the mask order either. 

“They may use their own discretion,” Wilson said of churches. “However, face coverings are strongly recommended during worship service, especially while there’s congregation singing or speaking, or in situations where people are not able to maintain a safe distance from each other.” 

Wilson said his order is to remain in effect until the county’s COVID-19 numbers warrant a change. 

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Wilson’s order essentially extends the scope of a separate mask ordinance in the city of Birmingham to now include communities outside the city.

The reopening of schools makes Wilson “a little nervous,” he said, but that local schools have been planning for how to do it safely, and that the education of children is important for the students’ health as well. 

“We need ongoing discussions about that. It’s complicated, for sure,” Wilson said of schools and COVID-19. 

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Jefferson County saw 149 new cases on Friday, the largest single-day new case count recorded in the county, bringing the county’s total case count to 3,481.

Over the last week, Jefferson County added 690 cases, and if the trend continues the county could soon surpass the county with the most recorded cases, Montgomery County at 3,521.

Alabama’s 964 new cases on Friday was the third-highest daily count since the pandemic began, and came the day after the state recorded its highest daily new cases — with 1,129 recorded on Thursday.

Hospitalizations are up as well. On Thursday, there were 694 hospitalized COVID-19 patients across the state, the highest single-day of hospitalizations since the crisis began. The total dropped to 658 on Friday with fewer hospitals reporting data.

Dr. Michael Saag, an expert in infectious diseases and a professor and associate dean at UAB’s School of Medicine, said during the briefing that masks work, and that doing nothing will only lead to more pain and death. 

“If we do nothing, the numbers will continue to go up. This virus is here — not going away,” Saag said. 

Saag described COVID-19 as “one of the most infectious agents we’ve ever encountered” and called on the public to take it seriously and wear masks. 

“This is a call out to our community to come together, to be patriots, to do the right thing, not only to protect ourselves, but to protect our family and our community,” he said.

Saag said there is a projection that shows  that without action, there could be another 180,000 deaths in the U.S. by September, and 2,000 new deaths in Alabama in that time. If people wear masks Saag said that projection drops to 1,300 in the state and would save 700 lives. 

“You and me, we have the ability right now to prevent 700 people from dying in the next couple of months,” Saag said. “If we do what I would call a patriotic duty to protect our community, to protect ourselves and our families.”

Saag said there are hotspots all across Alabama, and encouraged people to stay at home when at all possible, practice social distancing when you can’t stay home, and always wear masks in public. 

“The cases that we’re going to see in the hospital, the cases we’re going to see in Montgomery County and every county, for that matter, two weeks from now, were transmitted yesterday,” Saag said. 

“We’ve got a lot of work in front of us and we’ve got to work as a community,” Saag said. 

Every hospital in the Birmingham area is being stressed due to an influx of COVID-19 patients, Saag said, and he predicts it will only get worse in the coming weeks. 

The thought of not having enough space or equipment to care for all patients who need it keeps him up at night, Saag said. 

“Please, please work with us. Help us to mitigate this epidemic,” Saag said. 

Johnjalene Woods of Gadsden said during the press briefing that she lost her father, sister and nephew to COVID-19 in five days’ time. She survived the virus, but was hospitalized, as were numerous other members of her family, nine of whom tested positive for COVID-19. 

“I wasn’t going to come, because I said people are not listening,” Woods said. “But I think God afforded me this opportunity. One more chance to warn, please wear your mask.” 

Woods stopped talking during the press briefing, paused and seemed to choke back tears when she spoke about seeing people without masks in public. 

“It’s insulting to me, and I try not to take it personal because everyone is doing what they want to do, but to lose three family members in five days…” Woods said. 

The family buried those three loved ones while several of them were still COVID-19 positive. 

“I just plead with you and everyone, just please wear your mask,’ Woods said.

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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Health

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.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Thirty-two percent of the state’s 48,588 cumulative confirmed cases have been added within the last two weeks. (APR GRAPHIC)

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. 

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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.

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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.

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Economy

Alabama Innovation Fund, Auburn support development of saliva COVID testing device

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(STOCK PHOTO)

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/

 

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Health

Decatur joins growing list of Alabama cities, counties requiring masks

In a 3-1 vote, the ordinance passed, but it wasn’t clear Wednesday when the order will go into effect.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Decatur is joining a growing list of Alabama cities and counties requiring masks in public. (STOCK PHOTO)

Decatur City Council members on Wednesday approved a face mask order that will require the wearing of masks in public and while on public transportation, joining a growing list of local municipalities and counties taking up such measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

In a 3-1 vote, the ordinance passed, but it wasn’t clear Wednesday when the order will go into effect.

The ordinance will require Decatur residents to wear masks while outside, in restaurants or businesses and on public transportation. Failure to do so could result in a fine of up to $500. 

Council members Paige Bibbee, Billy Jackson and Charles Kirby voted to approve the ordinance, and  Council member Kristi Hill voted against the measure, according to a video of the meeting

Decatur Police Chief Nate Allen told Council members before the vote that the area’s hospital intensive care beds are “approaching capacity” and elective surgeries have been cancelled to save room for COVID-19 patients. 

The city of Decatur is in Morgan and Limestone counties. In Morgan County, 30 percent of the county’s total COVID-19 cases have come in the last two weeks, while Limestone County added 44 percent of the county’s cases within the last two weeks.

Decatur Council members’ decision Wednesday came on a day when Alabama saw yet another record high number of COVID-19 patients being cared for in hospitals.

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On Wednesday, the state added 1,161 new COVID-19 cases and 25 deaths from the virus. It’s killed 1,032 people in Alabama, the UAB physician said. At least 1,110 people were being treated in hospitals in the state Wednesday, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health, the most since the pandemic began.

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Health

Madison County seeing surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations, ambulance calls

Eddie Burkhalter

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Dr. Pam Hudson, the CEO of Crestwood Hospital, speaks at a city briefing Wednesday. (CITY OF HUNTSVILLE)

A surge of COVID-19 cases in Madison County troubles the CEO of Crestwood Hospital, who said the public needs to take the virus seriously and do what’s needed to slow the spread by wearing masks and practicing social distancing. 

Madison County added 66 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, when the county’s total case count hit 1,620. Though Madison County had largely been spared through the early months of the pandemic, with very low case counts and deaths, over the last week, the county has reported 563 new cases — a 53 percent increase.

“Our county cases continue to climb,” said Crestwood Hospital CEO Dr. Pam Hudson, speaking at a briefing Wednesday.

“We have to flatten the curve again,” Hudson said.

Hudson said the percentage of tests that are positive in the county used to be much lower, but are now in line with the state’s current percent positivity rate of 9.92 percent. The percent positivity was 13.52 percent on Wednesday, based on fourteen-day averages of case and test increases. She said the county’s hospitals are very busy. 

“We were already busy before we had this uptick,” Hudson said. 

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There were 1,110 COVID-19 patients being cared for statewide Wednesday, the highest number since the start of the pandemic. 

Paul Finley, the mayor of the city of Madison, said there were 163 COVID-19 patients Wednesday in the Crestwood and Huntsville Hospital systems, which is a 31 percent increase from last week.

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“There’s no question that these numbers continue to rise,” Finley said.

Hudson said, on average, the hospital is running at between 80 and 90 percent capacity.

“Our ambulances yesterday had their greatest number of runs since this started,” Hudson said, 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.” 

A face mask order for the public went into effect Tuesday in Madison County. Similar orders are in effect in Jefferson County, Montgomery, Mobile, Selma and Tuscaloosa.

Last week Madison County had 500 people who tested positive for COVID-19 and were under active quarantine and being tracked by the Alabama Department of Public Health, Hudson said. On Wednesday that number was 847.

“So things are not all well in our county,” Hudson said. “COVID-19 has gained, and is continuing to gain footholds in our community.” 

Hudson said she believes the spike in cases and hospitalizations in the county comes down to people not wearing masks in public, not practicing social distancing and bars and restaurants, which are hotspots for the virus’s transmission. 

Hudson reiterated a statement made by Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, that up to 40 percent of coronavirus cases are caused by someone who is infected and has no symptoms, and one in 10 COVID-19 patients need hospitalization, Hudson said. 

“So this is not a nothing disease. Thirty percent of those patients who are hospitalized will end up in an ICU,” Hudson said. “And of those, 30 to 40 percent will die.” 

Local hospitals are “bumping up into some challenges” with the availability of ICU beds, Hudson said, and the medical staff is under strain and the threat of becoming infected themselves every day.

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