Doctors from President Joe Biden’s administration noted the importance of vaccination in the fight against COVID-19, but stopped short of favoring a shot or mask mandate in a visit to Mobile Thursday.
Dr. Cameron Webb, White House Policy Adviser for COVID-19 Equity, said the team has been on a tour of southern states and has recommended mask and shot mandates to governors and other leaders. Webb said during a tour of the city and USA Health’s vaccine and testing site inside the Civic Center that science backs up the assertion that both work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
“The administration encourages the use of all available tools to fight the pandemic,” he said. “Let me be clear, you have to have a true north and during this pandemic that’s the science.”
Webb said the science and data “unequivocally” show masks, especially in a K-12 school setting, helps to mitigate the spread of the virus. Both Mobile County, Baldwin County and the Archdiocese of Mobile have mandated masks in local schools.
As for vaccines, Webb described the Delta variant as a “breaking point,” leading those who are hesitant of the shot to go ahead and get it.
“The increase in the Delta variant coincides with the increase in vaccinations,” he said. “Since last Monday when the (Food and Drug Administration) fully approved the Pfizer vaccine, we’ve seen an increase. We’re going to continue to see an increase in vaccinations.”
Natalie Fox, chief nursing officer for USA Health Physicians Group, told the visiting doctors that the Civic Center site has vaccinated 90,000 people from the Mobile area since it was set up. While the rate of vaccinations lagged a bit during the summer, Fox said numbers are increasing, as Webb had pointed out. The site administered 2,000 vaccinations last week, she said.
The site was averaging as many as 200 COVID-19 tests per day, but in the last couple of weeks, Fox said, that number has jumped to 350 to 400 each day.
The increase in vaccination rates could be having an impact on overall numbers. After a long stretch with area hospitalizations related to COVID-19 over 400, the number of those hospitalized and infected with the coronavirus dropped to 383 on Wednesday, Sept. 1, according to Mobile County Health Department. The number continues to drop, according to the local case dashboard. As of Sunday, Sept. 5, the number of local hospitalizations dropped to 289. There were as many as 426 hospitalizations on Aug. 25.
The number of cases has also dropped significantly in recent days, with the only 179 cases reported on Sunday, Sept. 5. For context on the drop, there were a total of 559 confirmed and probable cases on Aug. 25.
Both Webb and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Dr. Mariam E. Delphin-Rittmon praised USA and the city for efforts to set up the Civic Center for vaccines, testing and soon home to the FDA-authorized monoclonal antibody infusions to lessen the impacts of the disease on patients who test positive.
“This is such an important site,” Delphin-Rittmon said. “It’s a one-stop shop.”
During previous stops in other southern cities and states, including South Carolina, Georgia and Jacksonville, Fla., Webb said the doctors have focused on various community impacts of the pandemic, including affordable housing and food insecurity. In Mobile, the team highlighted mental health.
The pandemic has coincided with increases in anxiety, depression and drug overdoses, Delphin-Rittmon said.
“It’s critical for us to look out for each other,” she said. “If you know an individual at home alone, make that call and connect with them.”
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