Morgan County has experienced a nearly 9% rise in COVID-19 cases in the past week, and an epidemiologist said a statewide spike of cases in October will be followed by more illness unless precautions are taken during the winter holidays.
Morgan County has had 617 new, confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the last 14 days, which accounts for 13.5% of all cases reported in the county since the pandemic began, according to Michael Glenn, assistant administrator for the Northern District of the Alabama Department of Public Health.
Glenn said at a news conference Monday that of the 12 counties he covers in north Alabama, 10 are currently designated “high risk” or “very high risk” for COVID-19 transmission by the ADPH. Morgan and Lawrence counties are both “high risk,” while Limestone County is “moderate risk.” Glenn said people need to continue to wash their hands, social distance and wear their masks properly to fight the disease’s spread.
“People either don’t want to (wear a mask), or don’t do it correctly. It needs to cover your nose and your mouth to be effective,” Glenn said. “Those tools are not 100% effective, but those are the tools that we have available to us at this point in time.”
The county has added one COVID-19 death in the past week, Glenn said, bringing the total number of deaths in Morgan County to 36. In Limestone County, 34 people have died of COVID-19, and in Lawrence County, 33 have died.
Decatur Morgan Hospital President Kelli Powers said the hospital on Monday had 32 confirmed and presumed COVID-19 patients. Eight patients are in intensive care, including five on ventilators.
Powers said high blood pressure is the most common preexisting condition for individuals who die from COVID-19, followed by heart conditions, including heart disease, and diabetes.
Powers said the hospital’s planned COVID-19 unit at its Parkway campus is currently in progress and that several new employees were recently hired. The COVID-19 unit was initially slated to open Nov. 1, but Powers said it will “hopefully open in the next few weeks.”
Athens-Limestone Hospital on Monday had 22 confirmed COVID-19 patients, including five in intensive care and one on a ventilator.
University of Alabama at Birmingham epidemiologist Suzanne Judd said COVID-19 cases have spiked during the month of October. Judd said between Nov. 10 and 14, it will become apparent if Halloween and homecoming celebrations led to an increase in cases.
“These two weeks are the ones that epidemiologists are watching pretty closely,” she said.
Moving past Halloween, Judd said the winter holiday season will be a critical time during which the virus could potentially spread at family gatherings.
“Thanksgiving’s a particularly problematic holiday because the basic premise is that we get together inside and we share a meal together,” Judd said. “That particular activity this year is not nearly as safe as it’s been in the past.”
Judd said people should limit Thanksgiving gatherings to 10 people and should consider splitting their group into two “shifts” for mealtime to avoid gathering everybody in close quarters to eat at the same time. She said families can also consider hosting Thanksgiving gatherings that don’t involve eating, so that people can wear their masks.
Judd said another concern this holiday season will be college students traveling home for the holidays. She said people should avoid high-risk situations, like restaurants and bars, for a minimum of 10-14 days prior to traveling. She said a high-risk situation is “an indoor situation where there are more than 10-ish people, and where people are raising their voices.”
The reason for the 10-14 day waiting period is that someone could catch COVID-19 and not experience symptoms for several days, and unwittingly bring the virus home to family members.
Judd said the current positivity rate for COVID-19 tests in Alabama is about 14%, but ideally that figure would be well below 10%.
“The last time we saw a big spike in the positivity rate was back in early June,” she said. “So that is particularly concerning to see the positivity rate go up so much, so quickly.”
Judd said there is no evidence that early voting has led to cases of COVID-19, and that voting in-person today is relatively safe if people stay 6 feet apart, wash their hands and wear masks to the polls.
“We haven’t seen any (cases of COVID-19 linked to early voting) yet, no. So that’s a positive indicator, at least we’re doing things the right way in terms of the lines for voting,” Judd said.