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Jefferson County health officer, UAB head say COVID-19 numbers are improving but flu season is near

Eddie Burkhalter

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Dr. Mark Wilson and Will Ferniany, the CEO of the UAB Health System, held a press briefing on Friday to discuss the state of coronavirus and what’s being done to mitigate the disease

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson said Friday that the county’s COVID-19 numbers are improving, but with schools reopening and flu season approaching, it’s critical for the public to continue wearing face masks and practicing social distancing. 

Wilson and Will Ferniany, the CEO of the UAB Health System, held a press briefing on Friday to discuss the state of coronavirus and what’s being done to mitigate the disease that has killed 1,825 people in Alabama and infected 102,196.

In the last few weeks, the number of new daily COVID-19 cases and the percent of tests that are positive in Jefferson County has begun to decline, Wilson told reporters, but he put that decline into perspective. 

“Keep in mind though that this is a slight improvement from being at a pretty bad place with really high numbers, so we still have a long way to go,” Wilson said. 

There have been 13,682 confirmed coronavirus cases and 262 deaths in Jefferson County as of Friday, and 939 cases were added within the last week. The county’s seven-day average of new daily cases fell from its peak of 295 on July 18 to 156 on Thursday.

Wilson said there is good evidence that the county’s face covering order is making a difference in the spread of the disease, and that he thanks the public for making that difference, and asked that they keep doing so. 

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“We have four levels of surge,” Ferniany said, referring to UAB Hospital’s process of temporarily adding hospital bed capacity for COVID-19 patients by removing beds from other areas. “We’re on level two capacity.” 

Ferniany said the hospital is running at 90 percent capacity, which he said is a “very full hospital” and that between March and around July 20, the hospital was caring for between 60 and 70 coronavirus patients daily, and reached a peak of 130 patients a little more than a week ago. 

“Today we’re at 97 patients in-house, and roughly 40 percent are in the ICU,” Ferniany said. 

Ferniany said the hospital’s ability to care for COVID-19 patients is now limited by the numbers of nurses and other staff, and that UAB is “down several hundred nurses” and burnout from long periods of caring for coronavirus patients is common. 

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Both Ferniany and Wilson said they’re very concerned about the upcoming flu season and the impact it could have on hospital capacity, as physicians continue to care for COVID-19 patients. 

“The 2018-2019 flu season was the worst flu season we have seen in 40 years, and we actually asked the governor back then to declare a state of emergency because our hospitals were full then with influenza,” Wilson said. 

Wilson urged the public to get their annual flu shots once available on Sept. 1 to help prevent additional strain on hospitals statewide. Public health officials worry that the combination of flu and COVID-19 could be difficult to handle — both on a system-wide level and the level of an individual person.

“We have no reason to think that somebody can’t get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, which could be a deadly combination,” Wilson said. 

Wilson said while he isn’t certain what Gov. Kay Ivey may decide about the statewide mask order, but “in Jefferson County, it’s very likely I’m going to be pushing to continue face coverings through the flu season,” Wilson said.

Wilson in July advised school superintendents in Jefferson County that middle and high school students should attend school virtually only for the first nine weeks, a stronger recommendation than most superintendents elsewhere have received. 

Wilson told reporters Friday that his recommendation for virtual-only classes to start was done to keep kids, teachers, staff and families safe. 

“We’re probably going to have some cases. It’s inevitable, but what we want to do is everything we can as kids go back to school to reduce the spread within school so that schools can stay open.” 

There are also preliminary plans for a new testing site for children as schools reopen, Wilson said, but those plans continue to be developed. 

Ferniany said UAB Hospital on Thursday got initial approval from the hospital’s board to expand COVID-19 testing capacity. 

Our goal is to try to expand it significantly by the end of December. We probably can’t get it up faster than that, but this pandemic is not going away by the end of December so I think we will have a significant increase in our ability to have rapid tests in place by the end of this year,” Ferniany 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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Alabama officials working to ID missed COVID-19 deaths

It will be some time before we can truly understand the death and destruction caused by COVID-19.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Reported deaths have skyrocketed in recent weeks as ADPH reviews death records to ensure no COVID deaths are missed. Several hundred deaths remain undated. (ADPH DATA/APR GRAPHIC)

The Alabama Department of Public Health has reported 598 COVID-19 deaths over the past three days, one of the highest three-day totals since the pandemic began. But many of those deaths happened weeks, and even months, ago — evidence of the work ADPH is doing to ensure all deaths caused by the disease are counted.

Despite the common myth that many COVID-19 deaths are of people who didn’t actually die from the disease, the opposite is often true. The death toll is likely an undercount. The Alabama Department of Public Health since Nov. 11 has been working to make sure those who died from the disease, or from illnesses brought on by it, are properly classified as such. 

At least 5,945 people have died from COVID-19 in Alabama as of Thursday, according to ADPH.

At least 792 Alabamans died from COVID-19 in December, making it one of the deadliest months since the start of the pandemic, and as new deaths are reported, the total is likely to grow.

At least 1,118 deaths have been reported in January, but the vast majority of those reported deaths actually occurred in December or earlier. Only 106 actually occurred in January, though many of the reported deaths remain undated.

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It takes some time for ADPH to review medical records and verify a death is caused by COVID-19, and the department reports deaths in two ways: In the first, the death is reported on the day ADPH confirms the death as being from the disease. In the second, ADPH reports the date on which the death actually occurred. Confirmation can take weeks, or longer.

The U.S. on Tuesday recorded more COVID-19 deaths than on any other single day during the pandemic, at 4,327, according to Johns Hopkins University. There have been at least 384,204 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S., but that figure is likely an undercount, according to medical experts. 

“Generally, we would expect COVID to be listed on the death certificate, but that might not necessarily be the case,” said Dr. Karen Landers, assistant state health officer at ADPH, speaking to APR recently. “So it is possible they could still be determined to be a COVID death as a result of comorbidities that were triggered or made worse from the viral infection.” 

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The CDC and the CDC’s National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System guidelines state that 30 days after a COVID-19 diagnosis a person is presumed to have recovered, which means that if that person were hospitalized for more than 30 days and dies, it’s possible that their death won’t be classified as from COVID-19 by the workers who input that data into the system. 

ADPH has a team of workers who review those databases and medical records to determine if a death was in fact due to COVID-19, or medical complications as a result of the disease. That team includes a primary care physician who handles the adult cases, an OB-GYN who reviews cases of pregnant women and Landers herself, who deals with deaths of juveniles, Landers said. 

Landers said those staff members are going back through death certificates and medical records and looking to see if the person did have COVID at some point, and what role that might have played in their death. 

“We made this commitment under Dr. Harris’s direction that we would look very meticulously at each one of these because, again, it’s still a learning process about this virus,” Landers said, referring to Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris. “It is extremely important for us to be accurate in terms of the data so that we can capture, what is the mortality rate, why did people die from COVID-19 and what are the contributory factors to COVID-19?” 

Landers dispelled an often-mentioned myth that there’s money to be made by incorrectly identifying deaths as COVID-19. 

“We’re not gonna get paid any more money in the Alabama Department of Public Health for one death or 10 deaths,” Landers said. “Data accuracy is important from the standpoint of knowing, okay, how deadly is this disease?”

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, director of UAB’s division of infectious diseases, told APR last month that during recent shifts at the hospital she learned of a patient who came in with severe COVID-19 pneumonia in late November and progressively worsened, requiring ICU care.

“They continue to deteriorate. They get what we call ARDS or adult respiratory distress syndrome,” Marrazzo said. “They’re in the unit for another 10 to 12 days,  then, like many people who are persistently on the ventilator they get what’s called a nosocomial pneumonia.” 

 “So now you’re taking care of somebody who’s in an intensive care unit. They’re getting multiple antibiotics. They can get complications from the antibiotics that we can’t prevent, and you are now trying so hard to keep them going, and hopefully alive,” Marrazzo said. 

The hope is always that someone will improve and be released before the 30-day timeline, Marrazzo said, but hospital stays of more than 30 days are not uncommon. 

“What if on January 2 they have a cardiac arrest, or they have an episode of septicemia or septic shock from an infection that they acquired as a consequence of being so sick and in the ICU?” Marrazzo said. “That COVID diagnosis that drove them into the hospital so long ago, may not show up on their death certificate, and so attributing deaths to COVID is going to be a real skill, as we look at this surveillance from these databases.” 

“So Dr. landers is absolutely correct,” Marrazzo said. “And it’s another reason that I think the toll of this pandemic on our families, our communities, everybody, is really not going to become clear until we’ve had a chance to get our heads above water and go back and look at some of these sources.” 

ADPH in a statement on Tuesday said the department continues to review a large number of deaths. 

“At this time, two-thirds of the deaths have been reviewed and ADPH expects this will take a few more weeks to complete. This may result in additional death numbers which are historic and do not reflect recent mortality due to COVID-19,” the statement reads.

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Alabama to begin vaccinating people 75 and up, first responders on Jan. 18

The move is the first such expansion since the state began administering vaccines last month.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)
Note: This story will be updated.

The Alabama Department of Public Health on Friday announced an expansion of COVID-19 vaccinations statewide to include those aged 75 and older, law enforcement and firefighters, by appointment only, starting Jan. 18. 

The move is the first such expansion since the state began administering vaccines to the approximately 326,000 at-risk medical workers and nursing residents and staff last month. 

Appointments at locations throughout the state are made on a first-come, first-served basis, according to a press release from Gov. Kay Ivey’s office. 

“The addition of these groups is not a full expansion into the next phase of the vaccine rollout,” the release states. 

“We recognize that demand for vaccine exceeds supply,” said State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris in a statement. “While there is still an insufficient amount of the vaccine supply, we want to maximize our resources to help protect Alabamians at high risk.”

County health departments are working with their local points of distribution to assess what their vaccination reach has been, Harris continued.  

“Decisions about the next groups to vaccinate are made at the community level with community engagement. If the very high-risk population has been covered adequately, providers can then begin vaccinating people in the other priority groups,” Harris said. 

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Those seeking to schedule an appointment for the free vaccination may call the ADPH toll-free phone number at 1-855-566-5333. Calls are to be answered from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. seven days a week, according to the release.

Vaccination locations can be viewed here and additional specific information, such as what to bring and what to wear, will be provided when appointments are made, according to the release. 

Those wishing to be vaccinated at sites other than a county health department, such as a private provider, should contact those sites directly, according to the release.

While the expanded vaccinations are a step toward speeding up the life-saving protection, vaccine rollout in Alabama has lagged behind all but a handful of states, and despite the news Friday the state remains in phase 1a of ADPH’s vaccination plan. 

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As of Jan. 2, there were only enough doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to give the first shot of vaccine to four percent of Alabama’s population. Of those doses, just under 19 percent, or 42,810 had been administered. During the week ending Jan. 2, the state vaccinated on average 3,190 people each day. 

Calhoun County became one of the first two counties in the state to move into phase 1b, in a limited form, and began Tuesday vaccinating the first of the two required doses of vaccines to those aged 75 and older at the Anniston City Meeting Center on a first come, first served basis. Etowah County on Monday evening decided to move fully into phase 1b, according to al.com

The demand quickly outstripped the county’s supply of vaccines, however, and within about two hours from beginning vaccinations on Wednesday there wasn’t enough to continue. 

Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency director Michael Barton, speaking to APR on Wednesday, said the county vaccinated approximately 700 people aged 75 and older and another 270 at-risk medical workers and first responders, and on Wednesday vaccinated another 500 of those aged 75 and older and another 340 medical workers. The county had enough vaccine to administer to another 500 older persons and about 250 medical workers on Thursday. 

It’s up to ADPH and the county’s vaccination partnering site, Northeast Alabama Regional Medical Center, to order additional vaccines, Barton said, and he expected that to happen quickly. 

“But they requested far more than was gotten on this first round, so we know the need is out there,” Barton said. 

The move to expand vaccinations in Calhoun County came within hours after officials calculated that enough at-risk medical workers had been vaccinated, Barton explained. 

“We didn’t want to wait a day. A day matters,” Barton said. 

Approximately two people aged 75 or older had been dying in Calhoun County every day for the previous three weeks, Barton said, so they chose to focus on those most vulnerable in phase 1b. While Phase 1b also includes frontline workers such as teachers, postal service workers and grocery store workers, there were simply not enough vaccines to broaden the scope, Barton explained. 

“It’s to everybody’s advantage if the health department can get the vaccine out into the public sector, in terms of to the doctors offices , to the pharmacies,” Barton said. “Spread it out as widely as possible.” 

As of Friday just five pharmacies statewide were listed on ADPH’s list of vaccine providers, and just a single physician, Dr. Frederick Yerby, who works out of Fayette Medical Center. County health departments, hospitals and clinics comprise the remaining 153 vaccine providers on ADPH’s list

“Government is not the answer to this solution,” Barton said. “It’s a matter of the government being able to facilitate it, but the Alabama Department of Public Health has got to be able to get it out into the doctor’s offices and the pharmacies as quickly as possible, and they will get it out to the people.” 

Ryan Easterling, a spokesman for ADPH, in a message to APR on Thursday said the department continues to enroll new providers every day. 

“Pharmacies are currently involved in our state’s efforts to get the vaccine distributed to our nursing homes and long-term care facilities, and the Alabama Department of Public Health is working to utilize the pharmacy program as we move in to other phases of the rollout in order to most effectively make the vaccine available to Alabamians,” Easterling said. “We will have a news release coming out soon with additional information.” 

Asked if there are doctors offices administering vaccines in Alabama, Easterling said at this point there are “very few” physicians offices in Alabama that have received vaccines.  

“Some have already received vaccine and engaged in vaccinating patients, but most are in the cue or in the process of receiving their shipments so they will be able to vaccinate in their offices as well,” Easterling said. 

The federal government has left it to state governments and understaffed, underfunded state health departments to plan and disseminate vaccines. 

While President Donald Trump’s Operation Warp Speed promised to get the vaccines out to states – which hasn’t been done in the amounts or speed at which it was promised – the only support to states to administer the vaccines has been cash through the CARES Act. Alabama received  $4.2 million through the CARES Act for vaccine preparedness. 

Barton explained that it’s a lack of clarity from ADPH on where the department is, and where things are headed, that makes the county’s task of getting residents vaccinated more difficult. 

“It makes a difference with our plan. Do we need to try to have another one of these ready to go?,” Barton said of the vaccinations at the Anniston City Meeting Center this week. “Are we going to get vaccines in two more weeks? We don’t have the answers to those questions, so it makes the planning process very very difficult.”

Barton, in a message to APR on Friday, after ADPH announced the change, applauded the department’s decision to move forward, and said “the vaccine is not made to sit in the refrigerator, but it must be put in the arms of people as efficiently and safely as possible.”

“From our experience in Calhoun County, we know first-hand that this is a move in the right direction and it cannot come fast enough,” Barton said.   

“I applaud Dr. Scott Harris for supporting the decision that the next groups to vaccinate are made at the community level with community engagement. This is the right approach and should be expedited with coordinated and decisive leadership,” Barton said. “To be most effective, all stakeholders must be engaged and it can only be done through local partnerships and getting the vaccine into the private sector; it is imperative that this life saving remedy be put into the hands of our doctors and pharmacists as fast as possible.”

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COVID-19 hospitalizations continue surge as state awaits impact of New Year’s

Hospitals statewide continue to see record numbers of COVID-19 patients, as new cases mount and vaccine disbursement lags.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Hospitals across Alabama continued to care for a surge of COVID-19 patients on Wednesday, and a UAB doctor warned of worsening days ahead. 

“These cases are likely reflective of Christmas gatherings and those holiday gatherings, and we have not yet even seen hospitalizations related to New Year’s Eve,” said UAB’s Dr. Rachael Lee, a hospital epidemiologist and assistant professor of infectious diseases, talking with reporters on Wednesday. “This concerns me.” 

Lee said she’s seeing a wide range of patients, including younger people with acute cases of COVID-19, and described the daunting fight UAB staff are in daily to save lives. 

“I’m seeing a lot of patients who are no longer infectious but are still on the ventilator. They’re still fighting for their lives, and this is the most heartbreaking thing really for us because we are doing everything that we can to get them home and to their loved ones, and it’s incredibly difficult,” Lee said. 

Statewide there were 2,967 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Wednesday, down just slightly from the record 3,081 set on Tuesday. The state’s intensive care beds were at approximately 89 percent capacity on Tuesday, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Alabama added 4,591 cases Wednesday and added 49,615 cases over the last two weeks. Just 14 of the state’s 67 counties did not see increases in seven-day averages of new daily cases from the previous week to this week. 

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The state’s seven-day and 14-day average positivity rates were 46 percent on Tuesday, according to APR‘s tracking of new cases and reported tests over the past two weeks. Many other COVID-19 tracking projects calculate the state’s positivity rate by dividing the seven- and 14-day averages of case increases by the seven- and 14-day averages of daily test increases.

The Alabama Department of Public Health calculates the positivity rate differently, instead dividing the number of daily cases by the number of individuals who have been tested, rather than the total number of tests done, as some people may have more than one test performed. There are no federal standards on how states are to report COVID-19 testing data, and a myriad of state health departments calculate positivity rates differently. 

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According to ADPH’s own calculation, the state’s percent positivity on Dec. 26 was a record 17 percent. Public health experts say it should be at or below 5 percent or cases are going undetected. 

Anthony Patterson, UAB’s CEO, said that UAB has been flexing space inside the hospital to handle the surge in COVID-19 patients, and discussed the possibility of the hospital reaching a breaking point in terms of space to care for patients. 

“We haven’t hit that point yet,” Patterson said. “I think it’s the one thing that we all are fearful of, in terms of increasing numbers of patients coming to the hospital.” 

Speaking about vaccinations, Patterson said that as of Wednesday the hospital had administered 10,846 doses of COVID-19 vaccines to numerous different groups. Of those doses, 6,156 were administered to UAB employees. 

Patterson said about 50 percent of employees who were invited to be vaccinated accepted immediately. 

“And then there are many others who have stated that they intend to take it, to be vaccinated, but they’re not quite ready yet to receive it,” Patterson said. “And there’s been probably less than 4 percent of all those employees that have indicated they just simply do not want to receive the vaccine at all.” 

Lee said vaccine hesitancy has been strong with COVID-19 vaccines and discussed the unfounded rumors that the vaccines were rushed unsafely. 

“And it’s because of the myth that the data and the research behind these vaccines was rushed and not safe, and that is completely incorrect,” Lee said. 

The speed at which these vaccines have come to market was due to several factors, Lee explained, including the number of people who wanted to take part in the clinical trials. She said many may express concern over possible side effects, but said after her first dose she had a sore arm. 

“That was essentially my only symptom. Maybe a little bit of fatigue that lasted 12 hours, and that’s it,” Lee said. 

Just under 19 percent of the state’s combined allocation of 226,250 Pfizer and Moderna vaccines had been administered as of Saturday.

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Alabama lags behind 42 states in COVID-19 vaccinations

Alabama is one of eight states that have administered fewer than 1,000 doses per 100,000 as of Monday.

Eddie Burkhalter

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The line at the Anniston City Meeting Center wrapped nearly around the building on Tuesday as people waited to get vaccinated. (EDDIE BURKHALTER/APR)

For Erin Johnson, the COVID-19 vaccines can’t be dispersed soon enough, but not for her husband or two sons, who are still suffering from coronavirus. She’s worried for her elderly father. 

“He’s 82, and I know that he’s wanting to get [the vaccine],” Johnson, who lives just outside Huntsville, told APR by phone Tuesday. “I want him to get it, just because he hasn’t quite taken it as seriously as I would have liked to have seen him, but he’s been very, very fortunate to not get it.” 

The pace of the vaccine rollout has troubled her, she said. Nationwide and in Alabama, the number of vaccines being delivered and administered hasn’t met expectations, although state public health officials have noted vaccinations are increasing as county health departments recently began administering them, and should continue to increase as other entities begin doing so, as well.  

“It has been frustrating. We kept saying, it’s like you’ve made it so far. It’s been discouraging to see,” Johnson said of the rollout. 

As of Jan. 2, there were only enough doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to give the first shot of vaccine to four percent of Alabama’s population. Of those doses, just under 19 percent, or 42,810 had been administered. During the week ending Jan. 2, the state vaccinated on average 3,190 people each day. 

Alabama had administered 807 first shots of vaccinations per 100,000 residents as of Monday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which listed Alabama’s vaccinations at 3,246 fewer than ADPH’s figure. For comparison, Georgia had administered 708 doses per 100,000, while Tennessee had administered 2,223 per 100,000. Alabama was one of just eight states that haven’t administered more than 1,000 initial doses per 100,000 residents. 

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“But keep in mind we’ve had holidays,” Dr. Karen Landers, assistant state health officer at the Alabama Department of Public Health, told APR on Monday.

Landers said last week that county health departments didn’t begin administering vaccines until Dec. 28 and that pharmacies statewide would begin doing so this week or next. 

“We started out with a smaller number of entities. Each week we’ve increased the number of entities vaccinating, so I believe we’re moving in the right direction, and this should increase exponentially over our full week this week and next week,” Landers said Monday. 

Landers said as vaccines become more widely available they’ll be administered by doctor’s offices, urgent care clinics, in addition to county health departments, which are already administering vaccines. 

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“We also expect that some entities that may have an occupational medicine department, which will be vaccinating within their entity as what’s called a closed point of distribution,” Landers said, referring to some workplaces that will be administering vaccines. 

Earlier in December, ADPH learned the state’s second shipment of the Pfizer vaccine would be reduced by 35 percent of the expected 49,000 doses, with no clear explanation from the federal government as to why that was, State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris told APR at the time. 

Landers told APR on Monday that vaccinating the number of people who need to be vaccinated is an “all hands on deck in Alabama.” 

Hospitals have been vaccinating both their own staff and those of other neighboring hospitals and other health care workers deemed at-risk, according to ADPH’s vaccination plan

The Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency on Tuesday announced it had moved on from ADPH’s phase 1a to phase 1b, which includes vaccinating those who are 75 years and older.

The county EMA in a statement said it was doing so because it had met ADPH’s requirements for vaccinating those in phase 1a, which include at-risk medical workers and nursing home residents and staff. 

Calhoun County began offering vaccines to those aged 75 and older on a first-come, first-serve basis on Tuesday at the Anniston City Meeting Center. The center’s parking lot was full Tuesday afternoon and the line of people waiting wrapped nearly around the building. 

ADPH spokesman Ryan Easterling told APR in a message Tuesday that while at a state-level Alabama remained in phase 1a, some counties can decide to move on to phase 1b based on “uptake and saturation.” 

“This decision is made at the local level, as the county health departments work with the local points of distribution within the county (hospitals, pharmacy, etc.) to assess what their reach has been,” Easterling said. 

Counties that have adequately covered the 1a population from “very high to medium” can begin vaccinating people in the 1b phase, Easterling said. 

ADPH is assessing which counties have moved on to phase 1b, but Easterling said since that decision is made at the local level he did not currently have that number. Counties that have moved on to phase 1b will also continue to vaccinate those covered under phase 1a, he said. 

Landers said ADPH does expect “some level of scheduling” vaccinations, however, as counties move through the different phases to reach more people. 

“And that will really be not only for the convenience of patients but also being aware that, at least with these vaccines,  you have to plan when you’re going to open a vial of this vaccine,” Landers said. 

Once a vial is prepared there are time limits for when those doses must be administered or the vaccines won’t be effective and must be tossed out, Landers explained, so by scheduling people for vaccinations public health officials can better ensure doses won’t be wasted. 

“We’ve made a commitment in Alabama to use every dose of vaccine,” Landers said. 

The Johnsons, who own their own business, worked hard to do everything right, she said. Early on they allowed their employees to work from home, but they have an 18-year-old son, whom they believe may have brought the disease home. 

Symptoms began last Monday, and while they’ve been on the milder side for her and her husband, she still described it as “the worst thing that we’ve ever had.”

Their 18-year old and 22-year-old son, who came home from college, have been hit much harder by COVID, she said. 

“I really didn’t expect for it to affect them so much,” Johnson said. 

Johnson said she’s aware that many people have been waiting in line to get vaccinated, in places such as Florida. 

Seniors aged 65 and older in Florida’s Lee County camped out in lawn chairs overnight to get vaccinated, after the Lee County Department of Health encouraged them and at-risk medical workers to come on a first-come, first-serve basis to one of seven sites, each with just 300 doses, CNN reported last week. Some waited up to nine hours to get vaccinated, according to CNN. 

“I just can’t believe this day and age we can’t have it better,” Johnson said.

Alabama on Monday hit record-high COVID-19 hospitalizations and for the first time had more than 3,000. On Tuesday, the state saw its largest single day increase in cases so far, but ADPH noted some of those cases were the result of labs turning in results completed over the holidays.

The state’s seven-day average positivity rate was nearly 50 percent on Tuesday. Public health experts say it should be at or below five percent or cases are going undetected.

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