Doctor speaks after Montgomery County sees highest COVID-19 cases in Alabama

Published: Jun. 15, 2020 at 8:03 AM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - As of Sunday morning, Montgomery County has a total of 2,791 cases of COVID-19. More cases than any other county in the state of Alabama.

Data from the Alabama Department of Public Health confirms that Montgomery County added 147 new cases Sunday, the highest one-day total to date. The county’s average number of cases over the past week is 105, also the highest in Alabama. Over the course of the past week, the county added 798 cases and 20 deaths.

“Montgomery County’s continued spike in confirmed cases is alarming but not unexpected. Alabama’s premature relaxation of pandemic precautions has given too many Montgomerians a false sense of safety," said Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed. "With less than five percent of the state’s population, we shouldn’t be home to more than 11 percent of Alabama’s confirmed cases. The health threat is still present and risks overwhelming our local health care system. Our whole community needs to practice safe habits: wear face masks, maintain social distancing and stay home when possible.”

Previously, Mobile and Jefferson Counties were home to the highest caseload. Mobile County now has 2,697 cases. Jefferson County has 2,475 cases.

Local hospitals are continuing to treat an influx of patients. As of Friday, 162 patients are being treated across the three Baptist Health campuses and 52 patients are being treated at Jackson Hospital.

Dr. David Thrasher, a Montgomery-area pulmonologist, and head of pulmonology at Jackson Hospital, said he is surprised to see Montgomery County pulling ahead in the number of cases.

"Well unfortunately this is one time I don't want to be number one,” said Thrasher. “Montgomery is half the size of Mobile and Jefferson County and we have the most cases now. That is a problem. We are seeing it in the hospitals. The hospitals are fighting pretty hard. We are at capacity, it's really tough. And it's not because we are testing more, it's not because there is an outbreak in a nursing home, it's pretty much community spread throughout the community and it's going to be a problem."

He said people are not doing what they’re supposed to be doing to control the spread.

“They’re not social distancing, and they’re definitely not wearing masks,” Thrasher said.

Based on studies, Thrasher said the only thing we can do to slow the spread until there is a vaccine is for mandatory wearing of masks.

“Everybody needs to wear a mask in public and unfortunately it’s become such a political debate. Democrats verse Republicans, conservatives verse liberals,” Thrasher said. “It’s stupid. We are all on the same team, but because it’s become so political, more people are going to get infected and more people are going to die.”

Thrasher recently sent an urgent request to Alabama Chief of Staff Josiah Robins Bonner Jr. asking to consider mandatory wearing of masks throughout the state.

“Without mandatory masking we are going to continue to see spikes in different counties until a vaccine is available,” said Thrasher.

As of right now, the city of Montgomery does not have a mandatory mask requirement in place.

Thrasher says the number of ICU beds available in local hospitals fluctuate, but ultimately remain full.

“ICU beds pretty much across the city have been full,” Thrasher said. “The number of ICU patients across the state have steadily climbed the last seven days.”

Some hospitals have sent their ICU patients to receive care in the Emergency Room Department due to overflow.

“Bottom line, the Intensive Care Unit type patients, there are a lot of them in Jackson and Baptist Hospital. The nursing and respiratory staff are doing a great job, but the hospitals are strain, they are doing the best they can,” Thrasher said.

He said to his knowledge he does not know of any patients that have been sent to Birmingham for treatment from either Jackson or Baptist hospitals.

“Having said that, if they [Birmingham] had empty beds and we didn’t have ICU beds, I wouldn’t hesitate to ask for their help,” Thrasher said. “We get patients from Jefferson County in Montgomery.”

As far treatment of patients, Thrasher said a lot of the drug trials they received were being given to patients when they are “near dead.” He says he thinks the key is to give patients treatment as soon as they feel sick.

“Before they develop the complications that put them on the ventilator, before they develop the scarring, if you will, on the lungs,” Thrasher said. “Treating these patients earlier than later is going to be the real key.”

He said they are treating patients on a case by case basis. They are using the drug Remdesivir a lot.

“Some patients just need oxygen. Some actually just need steroids, but a lot of them are given the Remdesivir,” Thrasher said. “We do have a limited supply and we try to be smart how we use the drug, but if you need it, you’re going to get it.”

Thrasher said one of his biggest concerns is that almost one in five COVID-19 cases involves a healthcare worker.

“These are the people that are getting sick. A lot of people are getting very sick, and some of them will die,” said Thrasher. “There have been a lot of healthcare workers that are dying from this. I tell the public, please love your neighbor. Protect your neighbor. Protect your healthcare provider.”

He said citizens need to take this seriously. He urges people in the community to keep a six-foot distance, wear a mask, and that those over the age of 60 do not need to leave the house when possible.

“We are hoping this is going to slow down in the summer, but it’s certainly not looking like that,” Thrasher said. “I am beginning to worry that we are not going to see a slow down here, but even if we do, I am more worried about what’s going to happen when the cooler months come back and the seasonal flu comes back.”

He urges everyone to “please get a flu shot in October.”

As of Sunday, the state has 25,235 confirmed cases, with 768 confirmed deaths.

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