By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said the increase of Alabama’s positive COVID-19 cases are not just the result of an increase in testing, but that community transmission is still happening.
“We’re extraordinarily concerned about the numbers that we have been seeing,” Harris said during Facebook live events late last week. “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.”
Over the Memorial Day weekend, scenes of large crowds gathering closely together on Alabama’s beaches were circulated which Harris said concerned him greatly.
“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.”
As of Sunday morning, there have been 17,494 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Alabama, with 2,700 of those being confirmed in the last two weeks, according to the ADPH dashboard. There have been 628 COVID-19 related deaths.
Harris also stressed the importance of Alabamians using a face mask when out in public and maintaining social distancing especially now that more of the state is opening up.
“Even if you’re not concerned yourself about getting sick, we need you to do that for your family, your community, your loved ones, those people you’re going to be around who are affected by your own decision of whether to wear a mask or not,” Harris said.
Harris said that new hot spots like the ones in Walker and Tuscaloosa county can be attributed to certain businesses or long-term care facilities, but Montgomery County’s recent spike in cases hasn’t been attributed to any particular reason.
Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, who hosted one of the informational events, said it was unfortunate that the wearing of masks has turned into a political statement but implored people to not view it that way.
“People need to understand that their health is dependent on their neighbor’s health,” Jones said.
Jones said that he thought the state’s actions to open up the state have been done “carefully” and “wisely” but stressed the importance of people getting use to the new normal of distancing and face masks.
“We’ve got to get everybody to be talking about the need to protect each other and protect ourselves,” Jones said. “That’s the most critical thing.”
During U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell’s Facebook live event with Harris, the Selma Democrat said she hopes CARES Act funding for ADPH, first allocated to the state, is distributed soon and should go toward more testing and better contact tracing. Alabama was allocated about $1.8 billion in coronavirus relief funding.
“Tracing and testing should be the first thing that’s funded,” Sewell said. “It’s critically important for saving lives and saving the livelihoods of so many Alabamians.”
Harris said he hopes to have a final meeting this week with the state Finance Department about finalizing their plan on using CARES Act funds.
Harris also said that about half of the state’s deaths due to COVID-19 have happened in nursing homes but said the state still will not release information on cases in particular facilities due to privacy concerns.
“We have to be very careful with any type of disease or condition about reporting enough details that would allow someone to be identified in a community or the public,” Harris said. “We very much respect the privacy of people.”