Recent virus trends positive, but state ‘not out of the woods’ as schools resume

Recent virus trends positive, but state ‘not out of the woods’ as schools resume

By MARY SELL and CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama reported 695 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, the third day in a row newly-confirmed cases were below 1,000.

The seven-day average of new cases, now at 1,156, has been trending downward since around July 20. Hospitalizations also dipped this week and the percentage of positive tests has been declining recently.

All of those are heartening signs, said Dr. Scott Harris, Alabama’s State Health Officer.

“Obviously, we’re not out of the woods,” Harris told Alabama Daily News on Thursday. “We still have concerns about what’s coming. But, right now we see some things that are encouraging. Our total hospitalizations seem to be headed downward. The numbers of new cases in most parts of the state are in decline, and our percent positive rate has gone down a fair amount as well.”

Those are all good things, he said, but it’s too soon to declare victory in what is still a long fight with the coronavirus pandemic.

“We still need people to be careful, to remember they’re safer at home and to keep trying to protect themselves,” Harris said.

Bama Tracker New COVID-19 Cases & 7-Day Average

Source: Alabama Department of Public Health via Bama Tracker

The most recent weekly percentage of positive tests continued to dip to 12.3%, according to Aug. 8 data. That’s down from 16.7% in mid-July.

Harris said that while the amount of testing done has decreased in the last two or three weeks, the state is still meeting testing goals in all 67 counties.

Since March, 1,821 COVID-19-related deaths have been reported, seven of them on Thursday.

On Thursday, 103 hospitals across the state reported 1,365 hospitalizations due to COVID-19. That’s the lowest total in nearly a month. It peaked at 1,642 July 30.

“For the second day in a row, we had less than 1,400 people in the hospital,” Alabama Hospital Association President Dr. Don Williamson told Alabama Daily News. “That is really the first time in a month we’ve had less than 1,400 people in the hospital. So, I think it’s due to the mask order.”


Bama Tracker Confirmed Current COVID-19 Hospitalizations & 7-Day Average

Source: Alabama Department of Public Health via Bama Tracker

It has now been four weeks since Gov. Kay Ivey’s statewide mask mandate went into effect.

“Alabamians are doing well incorporating COVID-19 into their daily routines,” Ivey told Alabama Daily News on Thursday. “We are seeing lower numbers in our hospitals. Our daily percent positive continues to trend in the right direction. The mask ordinance that we put into place and the cooperation of the people of Alabama are making a difference. I encourage Alabamians to social distance, practice good hygiene and to wear a mask while this virus remains a threat.”

Ivey, who has sported an Auburn University mask in recent appearances, also said she hopes there is a Southeastern Conference football season.

“That’s why I encourage everybody to keep on wearing their mask and the mask order goes through Aug. 31,” she said. “The numbers are showing some improvement, so if we can just keep on I would love to go to a football game.”

As some schools, community colleges and universities resume in-person classes, Harris said safety guidance is more important now than ever.

“As things tend to open back up I think people get the wrong impression that it must be safer and that we don’t need to take these precautions, when in fact it’s exactly the opposite,” he said. “Now more than ever, as more things are opening back up. We need people to take extra care. We need people to wear face coverings when they go out to try to maintain six-foot distances, to be really careful about hand washing and hygiene, to monitor themselves for symptoms and to isolate if they don’t feel well.”

Williamson, a former state health officer, said the start of school and the Labor Day weekend in early September will likely increase cases. More cases will mean more hospitalizations.

The state saw some of its highest daily cases and it’s peak in the seven-day average in new cases in the weeks after the Fourth of July long weekend.

Hospitals in July and earlier this month saw more than 1,600 patients in single days. Williamson said if there are increases beyond that, staffing challenges will be significant.

“Now the challenge, from my perspective, is we can’t get back to 1,600 people in the hospital (with COVID-19) in October, because then we’ve got flu season to deal with,” Williamson said.

Flu season can fill hospitals and look a lot like the current COVID situation, Williamson said.

“So. think about COVID on top of a flu season, we could run out of beds,” he said. “But more importantly, we will run out of staff before we run out of beds.”