Alabama calls first COVID-19 news conference in months amid new surge in cases

Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 10:45 AM CDT|Updated: Jul. 27, 2021 at 12:21 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris called his first news conference since late April on Tuesday to address COVID-19 developments.

Alabama is seeing a rapid rise in cases and hospitalizations, Harris said. The state’s hospitals are now treating more than 900 inpatients for the disease, up more than 400 percent in three weeks.

“We are still far below the peak we saw in January and February,” Harris said, but cautioned the rate at which cases are developing is “unprecedented.”

ADPH believes much of the hospitalization increase is due to the Delta variant, which the CDC now says accounts for more than 80 percent of cases nationally.

Harris stressed a need for more residents to get vaccinated, acknowledging a frustration that Alabama remains among the bottom tier of states for vaccination rates.

“The best way to prevent the spread of coronavirus is to get vaccinated. Period,” Harris said, noting that there are 1,408 vaccination locations across the state where residents can travel to get the shot.

“Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is get people to change their behavior. What works for some won’t work for others,” he said.

While cases and hospitalizations have surged, the state has not yet seen a significant increase in COVID-19-related deaths. But Harris said, historically, the increase in deaths will start to show after those case and hospitalization increases.

Despite the rise, Harris said “I certainly don’t think there will be any kind of state mandate or requirement to wear masks.” But, he explained, we could soon see new CDC guidance on mask, specifically when it comes to kids.

With the new school year coming up, Harris agrees children need to be in school and he said ADPH is preparing to release new guidelines on how to safely return to in-person learning. Some of that school toolkit will include guidelines for Alabama schools to space out desks to three feet. Mask requirements would come from the local school system, not at the state level.

Health officials warn residents not to discount COVID-19 among children. ADPH says there are some small children who are hospitalized with the disease who cannot get vaccinated. He emphasized that one individual’s choices impact others.

The unvaccinated are accounting for almost all new cases being reported, but there are also some breakthrough cases being seen among the vaccinated, as well.

Harris pointed out that vaccines, while protecting an overwhelming number of people at a 94 percent effectiveness rate, still leaves around 6 percent at risk.

To date, ADPH has identified around 3,250 breakthrough cases in the vaccinated population. Of those, a total of 119 have been hospitalized and 30 have died.

Harris said those are incredibly low numbers compared to those who are not vaccinated, making up about .2 percent all cases at this point.

Even those who are vaccinated need to understand that vaccines “don’t make you bulletproof” the health officer said, but they significantly reduce a person’s risk of serious illness or death.

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