Stay away from family this Thanksgiving, Alabama top doctor pleads


MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — If you’re planning on a large Thanksgiving gathering this week, you could be putting your loved ones in danger. That’s the message from Alabama’s top doctor.  

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mary McIntyre provided updates Monday on Alabama’s COVID-19 vaccination plan and Thanksgiving holiday recommendations. Harris says he’s worried the lack of caution during holiday gatherings will create the biggest surge yet in coronavirus cases.

“This is a time for people to be vigilant. This is a time to be careful and to be thinking about what you’re doing,” Harris said.

During the press conference, McIntyre talked about what she and her family would be doing this Thanksgiving, using her example as guidelines for how people could safely celebrate the holiday together. Specifically, McIntyre said she would limit the gathering to no more than 10 people; hold it outside; and use disposable plates, cups and utensils to prevent the spread of germs.

Harris also detailed his family’s plans to keep a safe distance on Thanksgiving Day.

“I want to be with my family this Thanksgiving, but we’ve decided we can’t do the normal Thanksgiving we would do that involved people from different states and multiple generations,” he said.

Harris warned if people behave recklessly over the Thanksgiving holiday, it’s possible that a loved one may not be around come Christmas due to COVID-19.

Current infection rates are rising sharply in Alabama and Harris says the holidays will likely make it worse. Harris says the current mortality rate is around 1.5%, and while that may seem low, he says it’s about 15 times higher than the mortality rate of the season flu. 

Harris said that the state is seeing over 1,000 new coronavirus cases per day and is averaging more hospitalizations and cases than ever before. As of Monday, there have been 195,887 coronavirus cases confirmed across Alabama as well as 3,155 deaths since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic back in March.

“We don’t have to have a terrible December, but I am worried about what we’re going to see,” he said.

As for a vaccine, Harris says the state will have a full plan to distribute vaccines by Dec. 7.  Those working on the front lines of the pandemic and in critical infrastructure will be the first in line, then the elderly and those considered high risk. This comes as both Pfizer and AstraZeneca have announced the completion of vaccines.

The biggest issue facing Harris and his staff is making sure once the vaccine arrives, that hospitals and critical care providers are ready to store it and distribute it. 

“We reached out several weeks ago to facilities around the state to see who has that capacity.  We know of some who bought freezers in order to do that.  It turns out that many of our hospital have the capacity to store that,” Harris said.

Harris says it’s possible the first vaccine shipments could reach Alabama by mid- to late December. 

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