LOWNDES COUNTY, Ala. (WSFA) - Lowndes County, southwest of Montgomery, has the highest rate of coronavirus cases and the highest unemployment rate in the state.=
The county had an estimated population of 9,726 residents in 2019, according to U.S. Census statistics.
Of the 600 people tested so far in the rural county, 225 were positive, according to Alabama Department of Public Health data.
“Several. I have had several good friends from Lowndes County die. One of them died this past weekend,” said Lowndes County Sheriff Christopher West.
Eleven people have died from COVID-19 in the county.
“So that is a very high death rate compared to what we’re seeing with the rest of the state,” said Alabama Hospital Association President Dr. Don Williamson.
Williamson said many people in the Black Belt region have underlying health problems.
On top that, there are not many health care facilities.
“About 40 percent of Alabamians would have some underlying condition that puts him at risk. Everything from obesity to diabetes to hypertension,” he said. “And unfortunately, those comorbid conditions seem to cluster and are in the Black Belt.”
The sheriff said he encourages people to social distance, but it’s not always easy as this time of year is usually one of celebration.
“Yard parties. Graduation parties. Certainly our citizens are concerned about the pandemic,” West said. “But at the same time we’re a loving community.”
Lowndes County also has the highest unemployment rate in the state - 26 percent in April.
“We know from experience, that there are social determinants of health that determine a lot of what happens to us,” Williamson said. “So as individuals are stressed by food insecurity, they’re stressed by unemployment, they’re stressed by the economic realities of this virus. I think it clearly will contribute to increased risk of bad outcomes for individuals."