HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The State of Alabama reports there have been nearly 30,000 COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks. And statewide, there have been 234,000 cases since the pandemic began — a bit less than 5 percent of Alabama’s population.
“We are not headed in the right direction,” said Dr. Scott Harris, State Health Officer. “We are adding a couple thousand new cases a day, at least that we are aware of. Since this response began back in February in the United States, we have had more than 12 million cases of COVID-19 so far. And yet, we are now adding about 1 million cases per week.”
The Alabama Department of Public Health held a briefing Monday to outline its concerns about the rise in cases, strongly caution residents to avoid big family gatherings over Thanksgiving.
“We’re not going to get a do-over on this, all right. This is a big national holiday, we are in the middle of a pandemic and our numbers are worse than they have ever been during this entire response,” Harris said. “Please be careful, please be safe and please try to take care of those people who are most vulnerable.”
Mid-August saw the highest number of hospitalizations statewide, but Huntsville Hospital Monday reported its largest number of COVID-19 patients — 266 — since the pandemic was declared. That report follows Thursday’s total of 235 COVID-19 patients, which was the system’s previous high.
Harris said Monday, there is reason for fear and hope.
“I mean there’s nothing that’s irreversible. People in Alabama have the ability to stop this in the next two weeks, if they can just take responsibility and do what they’re supposed to do. I would say we’re really scared about what December is going to look like, based on what we’re seeing right now. But it’s not inevitable.”
During the briefing Harris also outlined the progress made toward a vaccine. He said at the current schedule vaccine could be available to administer — initially to health workers most exposed to COVID-19 and first-responders. Harris said Pfizer’s request for a emergency use authorization for its vaccine means approval could come within two to three weeks.
“We have set a date of Dec. 7 to have everything finished and ready to go, he said. “We don’t think we’ll have vaccine on Dec. 7, but it could be within 2 or 3 days after that. But certainly we think by mid-December.”
Alabama expects to get around 112,000 initial doses of the vaccine, though Harris said that figure could be lower. The Centers for Disease Control is doing the initial release of the vaccine on a per capita basis, Harris.
Alabama will need more vaccine.
“You look at the number of seniors we have, and the number of people with chronic diseases, that’s more than a third of our state,” Harris said, adding there are 200,000 health workers who will also have to be vaccinated.
Harris said the goal of the vaccination is straightforward.
“We want to interrupt disease transmission so we don’t see new cases, but more explicitly we want to make sure vulnerable people are protected,” he said.
In the meantime, protection from the virus is clearly needed and the stakes are especially high this week, Harris said.
“For people over 75 years of age it’s around 20 percent of mortality,” Harris said. “It’s much more significant when we think about a holiday situation and it’s Thanksgiving and you’ve got multiple generations there. And you have parents and grandparents you’re going to have some people who are just simply not going to do well.”