Despite summer temperatures, Morgan County had its third highest number of new COVID-19 cases and the state had its second highest daily count in data released Wednesday by the Alabama Department of Public Health.
The data makes clear that summer will not slow spread of the virus, said Dr. Molly Fleece, an assistant professor of infectious diseases at UAB School of Medicine.
"Early in the pandemic there was some hope that in warmer temperatures, as with some other respiratory viruses, that we might not see as high of a spike in the number of new cases as the temperature warmed," Fleece said Wednesday. "Unfortunately that does not seem to be the case."
She said COVID-19 cases are accelerating in Alabama and other areas with warm summer temperatures.
"Looking at the regions of our country right now — where the highest number of new cases, the increased number of cases each day, the record number of hospitalizations — where those are all occurring right now are all in the west part of the country as well as the Southeast, unfortunately, which tend to be the warmest areas of our country."
She said numbers are also spiking in Latin and South America, despite warm temperatures.
"We shouldn't rely on the warmer weather as being what helps us out during this pandemic," she said.
Morgan County had 43 new cases reported Wednesday, bringing its cumulative total to 818. In the last 14 days, 341 Morgan County residents have tested positive for the coronavirus. An average of more than 20 per day have tested positive over the last seven days. ADPH data released Wednesday reports two Morgan County residents have died of COVID-19, but an ADPH official on Tuesday said two more died recently.
The highest number of new daily cases in Morgan County were reported June 6 and June 14. On each of those days, ADPH reported 47 new cases.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Decatur Morgan Hospital had 21 inpatients with COVID-19.
Alabama added 954 COVID-19 cases in the data released Wednesday, second only to June 14 when ADPH reported 1,014 new cases. ADPH reported 25 new deaths statewide, bringing the total since reporting began to 879.
Eleven new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Wednesday's data for Limestone County, bringing its total number of cases to 294. Lawrence County had four new cases, bringing its total to 81. Neither county has any reported COVID-19 deaths.
The governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut on Wednesday announced that travelers from Alabama and eight other states where COVID-19 cases are spiking are subject to a 14-day quarantine when visiting their states.
Montgomery County has the most confirmed cases in the state, followed by Jefferson and Mobile counties.
Fleece said increased summer travel and reduced precautions due to "COVID fatigue" are contributing to the spike in Alabama cases.
"We are seeing potentially more people in crowded situations, whether in restaurants or bars or beaches, and more people are traveling. I think as individuals are engaging in more activities where they're in crowded situations, we would expect to see more cases there to follow," Fleece said.
She said Alabama residents have the ability to reduce viral transmission.
"First and foremost, wearing a mask. Remember we are not wearing a mask solely to protect ourselves. More importantly we are wearing a mask to protect those around us," Fleece said. "Even if we are around people who are young and appear healthy, it's important to keep in mind who they may be around. They may have older parents or immunocompromised friends or family."
She said early in the pandemic experts were not strongly recommending masks, in part because they did not understand the extent to which asymptomatic and presymptomatic carriers of the new coronavirus could spread it to others.
"Now, knowing what we know about asymptomatic and presymptomatic transmission, let alone with patients who have symptoms, we now know ... that masks work and that masks help to reduce the transmission from someone who has the virus in their respiratory secretions to someone who doesn't," she said. "...What we know from studies looking at hospital exposures, what we know from looking at transmission in communities: Masks work."
She also stressed the importance of frequent washing of hands and use of hand sanitizer; avoiding crowded situations, especially indoors; and social distancing.
Fleece said there is increasing evidence that even those who recover from the acute phase of COVID-19 may experience long-term problems.
"We know that there is potential for lasting lung damage — whether that's just decreased exercise tolerance, shortness of breath or the need for supplemental oxygen for a while — as well as some lasting effects on the heart and potentially the immune system going forward," she said. "As we get further into this pandemic, we will learn more."
Dr. James Boyle, a pulmonologist and medical director of the intensive care and critical care units at Decatur Morgan Hospital, is seeing his highest number of cases yet in recent days. Earlier this month, he marveled at the potency of the disease.
"You have to respect this virus. It’s just a little bit of genetic information packed in a protein structure. It’s tiny compared to a bacteria. You have this little piece of genetic information that’s changed the world," Boyle said. "You have to respect that. You have to stand back and say that’s amazing, in all the wrong ways."