Lawrence County became one of only six counties statewide considered at “very high risk” of COVID-19 transmission after the Alabama Department of Public Health moved the county up two risk levels Friday.
Limestone County remained at “very high risk,” for the second week in a row, after moving from the lowest risk level to the highest on Sept. 18. Morgan County has remained “low risk,” for seven consecutive weeks. It was coded yellow, for “moderate risk,” Aug. 7, and has been green since Aug. 14.
Lawrence County was at the "moderate risk" level in the previous ratings released Sept. 18.
Lawrence County Schools Superintendent Jon Bret Smith said the new ADPH risk assessment won't directly impact school operations because numbers in the district can remain low even if the communitywide risk increases. He said schools will continue to quarantine students and staff as needed, and maintain current cleaning and safety protocols.
“We’re very concerned about (COVID-19). We’ve hired extra custodians, and we clean things on a daily basis; we quarantine just like we should,” he said. “I think that’s really been effective for us for the most part.”
Limestone County Schools Superintendent Randy Shearouse said the district’s lead nurse, Elayne Perkins, is monitoring schools to identify COVID-19 trends as they develop.
“We have reviewed our procedures to make sure everyone is social distancing, wearing masks and washing their hands. Students are out Monday, which will help provide an additional day to clean,” Shearouse said.
Risk levels are updated every Friday. Counties can be designated green (low risk), yellow (moderate risk), orange (high risk) or red (very high risk), with each color indicating a progressively more serious threat.
The ADPH assesses risk level based on multiple factors, including how long the daily count of COVID-19 has been decreasing, or if the cases per day have been rising. Additional factors include the number of tests being administered, whether the percentage of tests yielding positive results is declining, and whether the number of doctor’s office visits for symptoms associated with COVID-19 are declining.
In both Limestone and Lawrence counties, new cases have been declining for less than six days, and the percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive is 10% or higher and not declining. Testing goals are being met in both counties, and doctor’s office visits for symptoms associated with the virus are decreasing.
In contrast, cases in Morgan County have been in decline for the past 14 days, and the percentage of tests coming back positive has been decreasing (and is below 10%). Morgan County is also meeting testing goals, and has seen a drop in visits to the doctor for symptoms associated with COVID-19.
There is a lag between the data and when it is reported, according to the ADPH risk indicator dashboard, so that the information is complete. As a result, counties can switch between risk levels each week, like Limestone and Lawrence have in recent months.
Judy Smith, public health administrator for the Alabama Department of Public Health Northern District, said although schools should continue taking precautions against the spread of COVID-19, the high risk levels in Limestone and Lawrence counties do not necessarily mean there is a high level of spread in schools.
Smith said she has not received any reports of outbreaks in the schools.
“There is community spread, and it’s been from various sources. It’s been from the community, it’s been from long-term care facilities, and I don’t have any reports on the schools, but I certainly don't think we can tie it back to one thing specifically,” she said.
Limestone County has added an average of 23 new cases per day in the past week, including 30 new cases on Thursday — its largest number of reported new cases in almost seven weeks — and another 28 Friday. A new death was also reported Thursday for Limestone County.
In Lawrence County, an average of about six new cases per day have been added in the past week, including 11 new cases on Monday. Two new deaths were reported Wednesday.
Morgan County has added an average of about 18 new cases per day in the past week, with a spike Sept. 18 when the county added 37 new cases. Two new deaths were reported Thursday.
As of Friday, Decatur Morgan Hospital had 22 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients, including three in intensive care and three on ventilators. Athens-Limestone Hospital had 12 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients, including four in intensive care and one on a ventilator.