CLANTON, Ala. (AP) — A longtime Alabama mayor diagnosed with the disease caused by the new coronavirus has died, city officials said Thursday as the illness continued surging in the state.
The Clanton Fire Department announced on its Facebook page that Mayor Billy Joe Driver had died while fighting COVID-19. The 84-year-old Driver served with the department before becoming mayor of the central Alabama town of 8,800 people in 1984.
News outlets reported that Driver had been hospitalized since late June. He planned to retire later this year, said the Fire Department message.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey called Driver a valued public servant.
“He will truly be missed in his home of Clanton, but also by many of us across the state. I offer my heartfelt prayers to his loved ones, friends and the city of Clanton in their tremendous time of loss,” Ivey said in a statement.
Driver’s death came as cases continued to increase precipitously in the state as the virus spreads through communities. The Alabama Department of Public Health on Thursday reported an additional 2,100 infections, bringing the state total above 48,000.
More than 1,100 people are currently hospitalized statewide with the disease, severely limiting the number of intensive care beds that are available, and an increasing percentage of people are testing positive for the illness.
The state’s disease caseload has increased steadily in the weeks since Ivey allowed businesses to reopen to stimulate the economy.
More than 48,000 people in Alabama have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began, with more than 30% of the infections reported in the past two weeks. At least 1,042 people have died with the illness.
While most people who contract the coronavirus recover after suffering only mild to moderate symptoms, it can be deadly for older patients and those with other health problems.