With cases of COVID-19 increasing and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calling for masks on school buses, local health experts said they are seeing a "slight increase" in the number of vaccinations being requested by area residents.

Decatur's Alicia Smith said she was hesitant to get a COVID-19 vaccination in the spring, but her concern of side effects diminished and the recent surge of coronavirus cases had her in line getting an injection Monday morning.

“I am getting a shot for the protection of my family,” Smith said minutes before getting the vaccine at Walgreens. “I was hesitant at first because (the vaccine) hadn’t had time to marinate. But I’m not hearing much about side effects, and I want to protect everyone around me. My daughter plays a lot of sports at school, and I want her protected. But I want to say getting the vaccine is a personal decision. It’s your own choice.”

Her daughter, high school freshman Arianna Swoopes, who plays volleyball and basketball at Austin High, was getting her vaccination Monday, also.

“The shot didn’t really hurt at all,” she said.

A toolkit released by the CDC on Monday said, "Regardless of the mask policy at school, passengers and drivers must wear masks on school buses, including on buses operated by public and private school systems."

Decatur City Schools Deputy Superintendent Dwight Satterfield said the CDC doesn't overrule the directives by the Alabama Department of Public Health and the governor. He said State Superintendent Eric Mackey has scheduled a virtual meeting with superintendents on Thursday morning to clarify directives. Satterfield said he could not comment further on the matter.

Anita Walden, chief nursing officer at Decatur Morgan Hospital, said the delta variant of the coronavirus is driving positive cases higher.

“We’re seeing a slight increase in the number of people getting the vaccination,” she said at the city’s weekly news conference on COVID updates. “Decatur Morgan Hospital had 13 patients Sunday. Two of those patients had received vaccinations and that’s a little concerning.”

She said of the 13 patients, one was in intensive care, but none were on a ventilator.

“The average age is 60 and we’ve seen that trend all along,” she said. “Some patients are in their 20s and 30s.”

Decatur Morgan Hospital had only one confirmed COVID-19 patient and one suspected case as recently as mid-July. 

At the news conference, Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling said total COVID cases Sunday in Morgan County reached 15,200 up from 14,941 last week. He said the seven-day moving positivity rate — which measures the percentage of positive results in tests administered — is 17.6% in the county.

Michael Glenn, assistant administrator for the 12-county ADPH Northern District, said the district’s positivity rate is 21%.

He said in north Alabama, 25.9% of people ages 18 to 29 have been vaccinated, and 37% of those who are 30 to 49.

He said the vaccination rate is 74% for those 65 and older.

“We expect an increase when schools start back up. Most school systems have done an amazing job protecting the students. We want to see the vaccination rate increase,” he said. ”That will be the key to getting us out of this and back to some sense of normalcy.”

'Drastic increase'

He said 1,451 people were hospitalized statewide Sunday with COVID symptoms. He called the number a “drastic increase and highest since Feb. 9.”

The health department uses the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. The Parkway campus of Decatur Morgan Hospital has the Pfizer vaccine.

Three local pharmacies are experiencing or expecting an increase in requests for vaccine shots.

Blake Gowen, co-owner at Payless Pharmacy in Decatur, said he’s seen a 30% increase in inoculation requests in the past week.

“I’m really encouraged by this,” he said. “That is a good sign. We want to get out ahead of it before it gets out of hand.” He said Payless uses the Pfizer vaccine.

Edward Guice, owner of Guice Pharmacy in Decatur, said in late May and June calls for vaccinations stopped. “Now, we’re having calls from people with questions and concerns,” he said. “Not a burdensome number, maybe 10 calls in the past week.”

He said that March through May his pharmacy was giving about 30 doses a day. “Presently we don’t have the vaccine here. I was giving (a shot) to one person in the morning and to another in the afternoon. Each vial has between five to 14 doses. I was wasting more than I was using. … If people call, I’ll find them a place to get a vaccine. But I know people are still reluctant to take the shot.”

He said his pharmacy has given Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

Laura Solley, pharmacist at Valley Drugs in Decatur, said she hasn’t seen a large uptick in vaccination requests, but she is anticipating more calls if the delta variant continues to spread.

“We saw a lot of calls for vaccinations in the spring, but not so much recently,” she said. “We have the J&J vaccine and walk-ins are welcome.”

CDC recommends masks in schools

Walden said Decatur Morgan Hospital plans to mobilize its mobile medical unit for testing and possible vaccinations.

Morgan County Commission Chairman Ray Long said he is concerned about the rising infection numbers, but there are no immediate plans to shut down or curtail courthouse activities.

“Masks are still available at the courthouse,” he said. “Nearly all of the people getting COVID are the unvaccinated. There was no question for me and my family once the vaccines were available. But everyone makes their own decisions.”

The CDC also is recommending universal masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. "Children should return to full-time in-person learning in the fall with layered prevention strategies in place," the CDC reported.

It called the delta variant "much more contagious" than previous COVID-19 strains.

“Do whatever you can to get vaccinated,” Bowling urged citizens.

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mike.wetzel@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2442. Twitter @DD_Wetzel.

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