Mobile County officials urged the population to get vaccinated as the more-infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus takes hold in the area.
In a press conference Friday, July 16, members of the county’s coronavirus task force, which includes Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, County Commission President Merceria Ludgood and Deputy Mobile County Health Officer Dr. Laura Cepeda, told residents vaccination against COVID-19 is the best way to thwart the spread of the new variant.
“We’re seeing an increase in cases,” Stimpson said. “The overwhelming majority of [the cases] are in those people who have not been vaccinated. Please get vaccinated.”
Stimpson told reporters a city employee recently died from COVID-19 complications and although he did not release her name or the department she worked for, he said the message from her family was also to “please get vaccinated.”
“If you’ve been vaccinated, don’t underestimate your ability to convince others to get vaccinated,” Stimpson added.
Only a third of Mobile County residents have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. For folks under 50 years of age, the vaccination rate is between 20 and 25 percent.
“They’re the ones who are getting infected, have mild illness and go out there spreading the virus,” Mobile County Health Department Epidemiologist Dr. Rendi Murphree said in a phone interview with Lagniappe prior to the press conference.
The latest spike, which has resulted in as many as 64 new hospitalizations as of July 19, has been caused by low vaccine coverage and a loosening of social distancing and mask mandates, Murphree said.
“The Delta variant is 50 percent more infectious than the Alpha variant,” she said. “We’ve been having outbreaks all over town. We’ve already seen more than 100 cases over three consecutive days and it could be as many as 200 or 300 per day, like what we were seeing in January.”
While the hospitalization numbers may seem low, Murphree said a hospital visit is a “traumatic” experience and can result in financial hardship due to missed work and other issues.
Murphree said the vast majority of hospitalizations and deaths from this new spike are among those who are not vaccinated. A statement from the Alabama Department of Public Health confirms this, stating more than 96 percent of hospitalizations come from those who have not been vaccinated.
“COVID-19 vaccines are our best defense in preventing serious disease as well as deaths, and this is especially important as the highly transmissible Delta variant spreads,” State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said in the statement. “While it is possible to get any strain of the virus, infected people are much less likely to experience complications or hospitalizations if fully vaccinated.”
Cases of COVID-19 have more than doubled in the two weeks following July 4 as compared to the two weeks prior, Murphree said in a press conference Monday, July 19. The number of cases has taken a significant jump as well from 18 on July 4 to 138 on July 17.
Similarly, the number of hospitalizations has increased from 15 on June 20 to more than 62 as of July 18, she said. Murphree said that was the largest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations on a given day since March 8. Deaths are still low for these new outbreaks, Murphree said, because of a higher vaccination rate among those who are elderly or those who have preexisting conditions.
Ludgood told members of the press that while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says vaccinated individuals no longer have to wear face coverings, she will continue to do so while in close proximity to others because she doesn’t know the vaccination status of many of those with whom she comes into contact.
“I’m urging people to go back to your masks,” she said.
Dr. Bill Admire, vice president and chief medical officer at Infirmary Health, said the best way to prevent COVID-19 is to get the vaccination. He urged residents to not put off medical visits either.
While Mobile Infirmary and USA Health have not changed their visitor rules yet, Springhill Memorial announced in a statement a change in procedures, given the new COVID-19 spike.
“Because of the increased prevalence of COVID-19 in the community and our commitment to keeping our patients, physicians and employees safe, we are suspending hospital visitation,” the statement read. “We understand the hardships associated with this policy and will allow visitation as soon as it is safe to do so.”
The longer the area goes without reaching a 70 percent vaccine threshold, Murphree said in a phone interview, the more likely it is for the virus to spread more quickly and create more variants.
“Viruses adapt as they go along,” she said. “They get better at infecting us as they jump from person to person.”
With herd immunity estimated to be achieved once 70 percent of the population is vaccinated, Murphree said, the number of individuals a patient can infect at any given time sees a sharp decline.
“The target is 70 percent,” she said. “If we can get to 70 percent we’ll be in good shape.”
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