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State health officials ‘encouraged’ by improving COVID-19 numbers

By Caroline Beck 

For the Enquirer  

 

State health officials have said they are cautiously optimistic as Alabama’s daily COVID-19 statistics continue to improve, but they’re still asking the public to remain vigilant against the virus. 

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said this past week that the state’s COVID-19 related hospitalizations and deaths are at some of the lowest points since the pandemic began. 

“There’s a lot of things to be encouraged about, even though we still have some concerns about what the future might look like,” Harris said. 

Some of those concerns, Harris said, are the increased spread of various COVID-19 variants and the changes in people’s behavior that might increase viral spread. 

“We just hope people will remember: We’re still not out of this,” Harris said. “We still are seeing hundreds of cases a day, even though we’re not seeing 1,000 cases a day.” 

Since the pandemic began, more than 514,000 Alabamians overall have tested positive for COVID-19. This past Monday, 193 new cases were reported with a seven-day average of 301, according to Bama Tracker.  

That includes at least one day of backlogged cases.  

The last time the state saw that few cases consistently reported was mid-April and early May of 2020. 

There were 350 confirmed hospitalizations for COVID-19 as of Monday – the least since mid-April of 2020. 

COVID-19related deaths have also continued to drop in recent weeks, with a seven-day average of 12.86 deaths. 

The only COVID-19 variant detected so far in Alabama is the B.1.1.7 from the United Kingdom, which is able to spread more easily and quickly than other variants. As of March 26, 103 cases of that variant have been detected in Alabama. 

Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, said the decrease in deaths is because of the number of people who have already had the virus and the fact that the most at-risk populations for serious illness have been vaccinated. 

“It’s not herd immunity, but it’s not zero immunity, and as a result, I think that lowers the ability of the virus to spread,” Williamson said. 

Alabama has had two main case surges during the pandemic – one this past summer and another around the beginning of 2021. Williamson and Harris both said it’s hard to know if Alabama is headed for another surge. They said the state could see an increase in positive cases but not an increase in hospitalizations or deaths. 

“An increase in cases, which might happen because of the variant, is probably not going to be translated as directly to increased hospitalizations as it would have been before the vaccine,” Williamson said. 

Alabama’s current mask order will stay into effect until April 9. Gov. Kay Ivey has said she will not extend it. 

The CDC still recommends people wear a mask when going out in public or crowded places where 6 feet of separation is not possible, and people are urged to continue to avoid crowds. People who have been fully vaccinated can gather with other fully vaccinated people in enclosed spaces without masks as long as no one is exhibiting symptoms. 

So farm 610,351 people have completed their vaccine series in Alabama, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health’s vaccine dashboard. 

Harris said every approved vaccine provider in the state will have received doses by the end of this week.

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