Two more Morgan County residents have died of COVID-19, according to data released Thursday, bringing the county's death toll to 17.

Twenty-five new Morgan County cases of COVID-19 were reported Thursday by the Alabama Department of Public Health, bringing the total since testing began to 2,295. In the last 14 days, 480 new cases have been reported. As of Wednesday, Decatur Morgan Hospital had 28 confirmed COVID-19 patients, including eight in intensive care and three on ventilators. 

David Spillers, CEO of Huntsville Hospital Health System, which includes Decatur Morgan and Athens-Limestone hospitals, said people who have been hospitalized for COVID-19 have difficult recoveries.

"If you come into the hospital for any period of time, you're probably going to be dealing with COVID for a long period of time after discharge," Spillers said. "If you come into the hospital in ICU, it's going to be that much harder to recover long term."

He said ICU patients often are discharged to a skilled nursing facility.

Lawrence County had its first COVID-19 death reported Wednesday. The county had seven new cases reported Thursday, bringing the total to 332. Almost one-third of those cases have been reported in the last two weeks. 

In Limestone County, 34 new cases of COVID-19 were reported Thursday. The county has had 1,261 cases since testing began and 13 deaths. Athens-Limestone Hospital had 12 confirmed COVID-19 patients Wednesday, including two in the ICU.

Statewide, 1,654 new cases were reported Thursday. Since testing began the state has had 93,402 cases, including 20,155 in the last two weeks. The 15 deaths reported Thursday bring the statewide death toll to 1,654. 

An ADPH official said testing results are not always reliable. Speaking to educators and school nurses this week, clinical director Johna Cotton said students with COVID-19 symptoms should be sent home for 14 days even if they test negative for the coronavirus.

"That's really important because we know that sometimes you can have a negative test but still have COVID," Cotton said.  

Spillers said about 230 employees of the Huntsville Hospital Health System are off work because they have tested positive for the new coronavirus, are awaiting test results, or have a family member who tested positive. This causes problems, he said, because COVID-19 patients require more staff support. Those problems will be exacerbated when flu season begins, he said.

"I'll tell you, our nurses are tired. It's getting harder to get nurses to take extra shifts because this has been going on for a long time," he said.

Spillers said north Alabama is generally going in the right direction, with new cases per day trending down slightly and the percentage of positive tests decreasing.

"We need to be really thoughtful going into Labor Day and as school starts. We need to continue to mask. People will debate whether masks have made a difference or not. I don't know how you can argue that masks have not made a difference. I think masks have made a difference. I've been a supporter of masks since the pandemic started," Spillers said.

"We need to be very careful for Labor Day. We don't need to get the numbers back down to a manageable number and then have Labor Day come around and everybody do what they did Fourth of July."

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