By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama military base has ordered troops to show proof of vaccination in order to go without face masks as the state sees an uptick in COVID-19 cases — a rise attributed to low vaccination rates in the state.
The measure was put in place Tuesday at Fort Rucker, the home of the Army’s aviation program. If a soldier is not wearing a mask, base leadership can ask soldiers to show their vaccination cards. In a video posted to Facebook, base officials said the measure is needed because of rising case numbers on the base and in surrounding counties.
Alabama, which has the lowest vaccination rates in the country, is seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases. State Health Officer Scott Harris said that is likely driven both by the low vaccination rates and the spread of the contagious delta variant of the virus.
According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, the seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Alabama has risen over the past two weeks from 205.43 new cases per day on June 28 to 559.57 new cases per day on July 12. In Alabama only about 33% of the population is fully vaccinated compared to about 48% nationally, according to numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We do have concern about the numbers,” Harris told The Associated Press
“Clearly that’s playing a large role,” Harris said of the delta variant. “And it’s definitely because people are unvaccinated. It’s not the vaccinated people that are getting infected for the most part and if they do for the most part they aren’t the ones getting sick in the hospital.”
Of the 529 COVID-19 deaths in Alabama since April 1, only 20 people were fully vaccinated, the Alabama Department of Public Health said. Harris said those deaths were largely preventable if people were vaccinated.
“The COVID vaccine is the foremost and primary tool with have to stop the pandemic. Period,” Harris said. “We have three safe and effective vaccines. There is no reason not to take them except in some very rare cases where a person might not be eligible.”
However, the state is unlikely to see the caseloads that came in December and January when as many as 3,000 people were hospitalized, Harris said, because of the number of people who have been vaccinated or have some degree of immunity from previous infection.
“But we also have pockets where we have lots of unvaccinated people and those are absolutely going to have outbreaks,” Harris said.
One outbreak was reported Wednesday at the St. Clair County Jail in Ashville, where the sheriff said nearly one-fourth of the 160 inmates tested positive for COVID-19.
Sheriff Billy J. Murray said health officials and correctional staff tested all inmates and staff and found 37 positive inmates in a jail population of 160. He said all precautions are being followed to isolate and observe positive tested inmates.