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Residents Urged to ‘Buckle Down’ as COVID-19 Deaths Grow in Jefferson County (Ala.) 

Dr. David Hicks, Deputy Health Officer, Jefferson County Department of Health (left) and Dr. Curtis Carver, Vice President for Information and Technology and Chief Information Officer (right) at the University of Alabama at Birmingham during a briefing on the surge of COVID-19 cases.
By Barnett Wright
The Birmingham Times 

Jefferson County recently passed a grim milestone with more than 500 deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic and health officials urged residents to “buckle down” with cases expected to increase over the holiday season.

The county has more than 36,000 total cases and 520 deaths since March when the pandemic began, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH). The county recorded its 501 death from the virus on Dec. 1.  

Across the state, Alabama hospitals last week hit a new high for COVID-19 patients. The ADPH reported the state’s hospitals were treating 1,717 coronavirus patients on Monday, a record for virus inpatients in the state, far surpassing the previous record of 1,613 set on Aug. 6.

Locally, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) last week reported 125 COVID-19-related hospitalizations, a record high one-day for the hospital. 

“We’re still in this fight and I don’t want [residents] to give up, but we really have to buckle down . . .,” said David Hicks, M.D., Deputy Health Officer, Jefferson County Department of Health, during an update from Birmingham City Hall. “We need to spread joy, we do not need to spread COVID-19, so we need to redouble our efforts.” 

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin during a briefing on the surge of COVID-19 cases in Jefferson County.

With cases reaching record levels, Hicks last week joined Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin COVID-19 and Curtis Carver, M.D. Vice President for Information and Technology and Chief Information Officer, UAB, to provide an update and encourage residents to remain vigilant.

“We’re averaging 326 cases per day in our county, that’s unacceptable,” Hicks said. “About 47 percent of our population has been tested for COVID-19 but more testing needs still needs to be done because our positivity rate is 11.4 percent and we need to get down to 5 percent or less so we need to do more testing, identify more cases so we can really get a handle on this.” 

Residents can find testing locations at www.jcdh.org for sites throughout the region. In Birmingham, Legion Field is a site that the health department is helping to support with testing, Hicks said.

Carver said all available measures are needed as medical providers enter their “darkest hours” in the fight against COVID-19.

“We must remain diligent and use the tools at our disposal to combat the spread of the virus,” he said. “That includes social distancing, wearing masks, using an exposure notification app and limiting possible exposure to the virus until the vaccines become widely available.”

Carver has been instrumental in developing the GuideSafe™️ Exposure Notification app through a collaboration between the ADPH, UAB and tech giants Google, and Apple. Alabama was one of the first states in the U.S. to launch Google and Apple’s joint exposure notification technology. It has the second most downloads in the country. 

“To date, we’ve had almost 175,000 Alabamians download the app, 456 positive COVID cases verified through the app and thousands of people notified from those positive reports,” Carver said.

Those number are impressive but more needs to be done, he said.

“The more Alabamians who download the app, the more effective it will be in saving lives,” he said. “The guide safe exposure notifications app is not only useful here in Alabama but it also works nationwide, through a partnership with the Association of Public Health Libraries.”

Carver encouraged residents to visit the Google Play or Apple App store or just type in “guide safe” and download.

 “You will never be asked to connect to your contact list, your social media, it doesn’t care about your locations, you just download it, accept notifications and start your peace of mind,” he said. “You’ll also be a citizen hero, doing your part to protect those around you.”

Dr. Latesha Elopre, assistant professor of medicine in UAB’s Division of Infectious Diseases. (Provided Photo)

Latesha Elopre, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine in UAB’s Division of Infectious Diseases, told the Birmingham Times in an interview last week that “over the next few weeks, we are expected to see an increase in hospitalizations related to the holiday activities.”

Many medical experts expected to see a surge in the winter largely due to the holidays and indoor activities due to the weather, Elopre said. “Unfortunately, this is also coinciding with the flu season which carries its own associated morbidity and mortality,” Elopre said.

Woodfin also offered recommendations as the cases grow. “The first is very simple and direct, if you are a small business owner in the City of Birmingham, if you are a manager of a public store, I ask that you enforce the state’s facial covering ordinance. You need to make sure that if a person walks into your establishment that they are abiding by the ordinance, that is important because we don’t want to continue spread.”