MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The state of Alabama has a "crisis situation" due to the number of people infected with the flu across the state, said Acting State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris Friday.
Harris said nearly one-third of Alabama's counties are at 90 percent of their patient capacity, and some are over capacity.
"We see flu every year at this time, and this is the normal seasonal flu that we typically see. There is nothing out of the ordinary in terms of the type of influenza that we are seeing, but we are seeing very large numbers and that's particularly been true for the past two to three weeks," Harris said during a news conference.
Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state public health emergency Thursday to help increase awareness and also allow hospitals more flexibility with treating patients.
In Montgomery, Jackson Hospital is restricting visitors at the hospital and its clinics. People with flu-like systems are not permitted to visit. Everyone else is asked to wash their hands before and after visiting.
Merrill South, the public relations manager for Baptist Health in Montgomery, said wait times have increased for non-emergency care and urged those with flu-like symptoms without signs of serious illness to first see their medical doctor or an urgent care facility before coming to an emergency room. Baptist is asking people who have flu-like symptoms not to visit patients at the hospitals.
Harris also encouraged people to avoid going to the emergency room unless it's truly an emergency. He encouraged people who don't have severe symptoms to call their doctor to see if they can be diagnosed over the phone or to take advantage of Teladoc services if their insurance covers it.
"If you have symptoms yourself, we would ask you to stay home. Please avoid public places. Don't go to work. Don't go to church. Don't go shopping. But stay home until your symptoms resolve, until you've had enough time to be considered infectious," Harris said.
The Alabama Department of Public Health has encouraged doctors offices to remain open on the holiday Monday to ease the burden on emergency rooms.
Harris said it's not too late to get the vaccine.
"We know that the flu vaccine is not perfect, it doesn't protect every person for every strain of flu. But it's still the most effective thing you can do to prevent yourself from getting an infection," Harris said.
He added that healthy adults should also get vaccinated to prevent spreading the infection to more vulnerable groups like people 65 and older, children under the age of 4 and pregnant women.
ADPH is planning to open flu clinics at some county health departments. More information will be released later.