ADPH updates efforts to combat COVID-19 as percent positives rise

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris on state’s response to COVID-19

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris provided an update Tuesday about where the Alabama Department of Public Health is in its efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alabama has seen more than 10,000 new cases of the respiratory disease in the last 14 days, which accounts for just under 30 percent of its 37,500 total cases.

While Gov. Kay Ivey says the state’s hospitals are not overwhelmed, she says “we are still in the thick of this.”

The facilities are certainly busy. There are around 1,000 cases of COVID-19 or suspected cases, according to Harris, with about 750 of those inpatients positive and the other 300 awaiting test results. Meanwhile, there are about 275 ICU beds still available.

In the Montgomery area, the four main hospitals have 145 inpatients with 49 of those at Jackson and 96 at Baptist Health’s three facilities. UAB Hospital in Birmingham is treating 78, the second day in a row of record highs.

Montgomery County saw 61 new cases and one additional death reported Tuesday, but is now being outpaced by Jefferson County which now leads the state in total cases. However, Montgomery’s percent positive rate, which is less influenced by increases in testing, is still highest among large counties at 19 percent.

Testing continues to increase, but Harris says “the percentage of tests that are positive, in fact, is going up and is now as high as it has been.” The rate of positive tests is around 11 percent, and has been for several weeks.

“Even though we’re testing more, we’re finding a greater percentage of people who were positive and that means we know that we have increasing transmission going on in the community,” Harris explained.

The doctor also touched on the pandemic’s death toll, pointing out that Alabama has reported about 900 of the nation’s more than 130,000 fatalities to date. But he noted seniors remain at a very high risk. Even though residents over age 65 make up only 17 percent of the state’s cases, they account for approximately 75 percent of deaths.

“If you do that math, that works out to seniors who are infected with this disease have about a one in nine chance of not surviving,” Harris explained.” And that’s a tragedy.”

One of the challenges ADPH has been working to overcome is making its data more accessible to the public. The state health office says ADPH has had county level date for weeks, “but it can be super difficult to interpret.”

ADPH hopes to change that Tuesday with the rollout of a new statewide map that updates weekly with color codes for each county based on 14-day trends. It will show residents an alert level for their county with, for example, a county that has rising cases for two or more weeks being coded at a red level.

Harris says the maps can also help schools, courts and businesses in a community get an idea of how they are doing it and how to proceed.

The state health officer continues to urge social distancing, good hygiene, and the use of face masks when in public.

“We know that face coverings aren’t perfect and they don’t prevent everything,” he said, “but we do know that they limit your chance of giving the infection to someone else.”

Part of the state’s efforts to increase mask usage are a set of homegrown celebrities taking part in public service announcements. Celebrities like Bo Jackson and Charles Barkley are included in the PSAs.

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