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Sunday, 7 March 2021

WATCH: Alabama health department news conference about coronavirus

Credit: WAAY ABC Huntsville, AL
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WATCH: Alabama health department news conference about coronavirus
WATCH: Alabama health department news conference about coronavirus
WATCH: Alabama health department news conference about coronavirus

We wanted to -- >> for a breaking news update.

Alabama department of public health sharing an update on the corona virus in our state.

Let's listen in.

>> we have many questions.

So we wanted to use this opportunity to address as many of those questions as possible.

We've taken questions from many of you and we'll try to answer as many as we have time for.

We hope that this update will be something that we can do regularly.

Maybe a couple of times a week or more if the situation necessitates that.

Let me begin by letting you know that we currently have a total of 167 cases that have been confirmed in our state so far.

These are over 21 counties.

Fortunately alabama have not seen any deaths so far.

A full half of those cases are located in jefferson county.

The counties with the second highest totals actually are shelby county, lee county, and madison county.

Each with 17 cases.

A total of 167 cases.

We have an age range in those tested positive as young as 2 years old of age to 97 years of age.

About 53% of those are male.

We're still selecting information on hospitalization but around 6 or 7% of those cases have been hospitalized.

We certainly have information about patients who are on ventilators in icus in more than one facility in the state as well.

We have recently begun posting those numbers twice a day on our website and would encourage everyone to check alabama public health for that.

We are also posting totals of numbers we have tested.

We include the numbers that we test here in our state lab in montgomery.

We are also collecting information from private labs who do testing as well.

Testing continues to be a concern for us.

We've met with a number of groups who are able to provide additional capacity for testing in our site at academic and other commercial organizations.

We are gradually increasing those numbers which will increase the total amount of tests we can perform.

One of our continuing problems is locating collection -- specimen collection kits.

These are the swabs and transport tubes used at the collection sites when people have their nose swabbed or mouth swabbed.

These are being sought by every state in the country.

As you know, the states have been told that we are on our own in terms of finding this equipment.

And so everyone is competing with each other trying to find sources that can provide that -- those materials.

The governor's office has been extraordinarily helpful in putting to the a group that is seeking to source those as well.

We are routing our requests through the emergency management agency and are using their contacts and their expertise to try to bring these to alabama.

So far the lack of these screening materials like swabs have been the limiting step in terms of setting up the screening sites we have around the state.

Still, the this time we have i think 17 screening sites set up as of today.

Those are the ones that are connected to public health and alabama hospital association.

We hope to have 25 fully functional by the end of the week.

There are others that are popping up associated with individual institutions as well.

And so there are some in several other counties besides those that i mentioned.

We know that two sites opened in mobile county today.

This was one of the counties that we had targeted as not having enough screening.

There is a new site in jefferson county today as well, as well as others.

We continue to remind the public that we do not need to test you if you do not have symptoms. this is extremely important.

We have many people who want to be tested because they're concerned about being exposed or because they're wondering if they could have contracted something in the community.

People who are not having symptoms do not need to be screened.

There's no indication for that.

It certainly uses up a lot of very valuable supplies and makes it much more difficult for us to test those patient who are sick or in some cases acutely ill or hospitalized.

It slows down the return on those test results for everyone.

So please remember, if you think you might need to be screened, please pick up the phone, call your doctor, call the toll free number that we provided for you before and we'll send out again today, to get more information about being screened.

It's very important if you're not symptom az symptomatic thatt attempt to be screened.

We are going to issue additional guidance to health care providers in the state about who we would like to screen.

Initially we -- if you remember almost three weeks ago we had screened only in accordance with cdc criteria and it became clear there was much more need for testing than that would allow.

So we made testing available to any provider who wanted to request it for any patient.

We still believe in trusting the providers' judgment and yet we want to make sure that they're screening those patients a little more carefully before they submit test results.

We're going to discuss that with our provider groups and consider issuing more guidance on that tomorrow.

Generally speaking we would like to test people who have symptoms and are either hospitalized, who are immunocompromised or have other health conditions who are over age 65, who are health care workers, who are in long-term health care facility and other types of patients can be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Generally speaking we only want those symptomatic patients that meet these high-risk criteria.

Now, if patients need to be tested who don't meet those criteria, there are certainly other available testing pathways.

There are commercial labs still available to clinicians who need to test patients who don't meet those criteria.

But we are trying very hard to preserve our testing capacity for those people who most need it.

You may remember last thursday we issued health orders for the entire state related to the size of gatherings, as well as guidance around certain social distancing requirements.

There have been additional health orders issued over the weekend.

In jefferson county, jefferson county has the highest number of cases as you know.

It's not clear if that's because there's more testing available there or if there's more -- if there's actually more disease there.

At this time we don't have additional health orders that we're issuing at this time but we continue to want to re-enforce the orders that we have put out related to social distancing as well as the other items that we discussed with you last week.

So i have a handful of questions that were submitted.

I'm just going to run down the list and answer a few of them.

We do have some of you here in the room today.

We appreciate your proper social distancing today and we'll be glad to take live questions from all of you in just a minute.

One question that's come up more than once is related to blood donation in view of covid-19.

At this time there's no reason to avoid blood donation to the best of our knowledge.

We do not have guidance that suggests that the disease is transmitted that way or is an issue.

We would remind people that blood donation is still very important.

Our blood supply at any given time is a fairly fragile because it relies on volunteers.

There's no substitute for blood in many cases.

And blood is a per ribible product.

When people stop donating for any length of time the supply dries up really quickly because there's always such a demand for blood.

We do not have any additional guidance about blood donations and would encourage people to still continue to do that.

We get a number of questions about the site of screening tests -- screening locations in different counties around the state.

As i mentioned we had at least 17 of those today, as well as the other pop-up sites that we may or may not always know about.

We do not have the actual addresses of those on our website because there are some variability about when they may be open, what hours and in some cases they may be mobile.

They might be at a different address.

You can obtain that information if your provider needs to have you screened simply by calling the number that the provider uses to arrange screenings.

So we can get that information for you with a phone call, but we simply don't have it posted because it is changing fairly rapidly and sometimes more than one time in a single day.

We received a question about soew masks or other masks that are -- n-95 respirator mask.

There is no recommendation to use those for health care providers.

They are not considered effective and we would not recommend you using those.

There is also no reason for healthy particip people to use .

There's no reason to think they would protect you from a case of covid-19 which can be transmitted through airborne route.

Only n-95 reses 95 reps operatoe preventing infection through an airborne route.

There are some uses of these types of masks in a person who is known to be infected and who is coughing.

If that person is being transported or is in public, then a mask will protect against splashes, against droplets, so that mask can be used against a person known to have an infection.

Otherwise, in spite of all the pictures you see all over the world of people using these mafngmafngsmasks, there's no evt they are effective.

Finally, we do get a number of questions about hospitalized patients and how many they are.

We have a way of sort of picking that up on the back end after doing our investigation.

It looks like around 6% or 7% of our patients have been hospitalized but we're still working to improve those numbers.

We have electronic methods of gathering data from hospitals that we have been putting into place.

So we hope that we will have more up to date numbers for you soon.

There's certainly not a ventilator shortage at this time, but we are very concerned about the number of cases that hospitals have even without an absolute number shortage.

Some hospitals are already nearing capacity and we've had to coordinate hospitals within the state so that they can share resources as needed.

We also have a group that is looking for the possibility of additional ventilators that could come from out of state to add to our current supply.

So while we do not have a shortage at this time there are some facilities that feel a little pressed right now and we're doing our best to work with the hospital association to address that.

So those are most of the -- i covered the majority of the submitted questions.

That's all the prepared comments i have.

I will be happy to take questions from those of you here in the room.

>> we heard from mayor walton maddux over the weekend that said 528 tests were spoiled or insufficient.

Do you know how many other samples across this state have been deemed spoiled or insufficient and can you explain how that ends up happening?

>> sure.

I don't know the exact number but i know that that's not the only group.

That's certainly the largest group by far that were unsatisfactory.

When specimens are submitted to the laboratory they have to be collected and preserved and transported in a certain way so the specimen remains viable.

In the case of the tuscaloosa specimens the main problem had to do with refrigeration or lack of refrigeration.

Those specimens were not stored and transported in a refrigerated environment and it just made it unsatsz factory for testing.

The results wouldn't have been valid had we run those samples.

So it was very unfortunate.

This is a new test for everyone.

We put out guidance to everyone on how to do this.

And for whatever reason, those just weren't transported in the right way.

So we certainly hope that people understand how they need to be done so that we can test them.

>> so some other groups that this happened as well.

Is this thousands combined that we could see in that -- >> no, i don't think thousands.

I think any other group would have been less than that total.

But in any given submission, sometimes they're just not handled properly.

Occasionally there can just be a reason that it's unsatisfactory because of other reasons, too.

Maybe it's not labeled appropriately and we don't know which patient it belonged to.

Occasionally, it's just -- there are just issues with any type of process.

But the main issue had been that one particular batch and they are were not refrigerated appropriately.

>> -- going off of those question, would those people need to be retested?

>> we don't have any data to report on those people.

If their clinicians feel they would need to be retested they would have to submit another sample.

>> you talked about the beginning of your remarks the state is testing screening sites.

Do you think the reason we're not seeing high numbers in some counties is because of the lack of testing opportunities?

>> i think that's definitely true.

Also no question that the sites with the most testing capability are the more populated counties but also the counties that have the most screening that's going on.

So we certainly understand that even though we have a system in which we try to be available to any person in any county and arrange testing, there's still a barrier for people in smaller counties, people who may have to travel to a site.

Rural counties have less resources in many case or it may be more difficult for someone to connect with a provider.

We recognize those barriers and are trying to work around them and arrange our screening sites so we can serve everyone.

But there's still a shortfall that exists there.

>> what's the current testing backlog right now?

How many tests are waiting to be processed right now?

>> the question is how many tests are waiting to be processed.

I don't know the number.

I would say that we are still telling people approximately 72-hour turn around.

So it depends on the given day when they come in and how many are being run that day.

But we generally are still trying to get things done in about 72 hours.

We know that commercial labs are now reporting more than a week turn around time for them.

So that's the main reason that we are trying to find new testing facilities that can take that overflow.

>> i have some people that are confused about there are so far 1800 tests that have been completed.

That does not include -- is that for sure not include private companies?

Because we have highland to report that they did a thousand tests.

So how many more tests maybe have been -- >> right.

So we collect information from labs that test alabama residents.

And we get -- by the emergency rule, we established a couple of of weeks ago, we get all positive results.

We also are supposed to get all tests even if they are negative.

So we're confident we're receiving all positive results.

The number of negative tests that we're not getting, we think we are getting a lot of them but at this time i think it's just been an issue with those labs being able to electronically report.

This is a test they haven't had to report to us before and it just takes a little bit of time to get them up to speed on that.

So i'm not positive we're capturing all the negative ones by far.

Certainly that number would indicate that we're not getting all of them.

>> can you talk about if there's any information being kept -- any information that's tracking people getting better from the virus to let our viewers know that there is, i guess, hope instead of fear?

>> sure.

So the question has to do with those who may be recovering.

I do not have specific data here in alabama.

Although there is data available from other parts of the world.

Remember about 80% of people or maybe even higher, 85% in some cases, of people who get infected do not have serious illness.

They tend to recover within a few days.

Probably have some degree of immunity although we don't know at this time if they have any long-lasting immunity but they have at least short-term immunity.

We can hope it will be longer.

Again, we believe most people will do well with this.

There's a little bit of concern about what we've seen in italy recently, as you know, italy has been hit particularly hard and italy has had more deaths than any country in the world at this time.

Even more than in china.

And so in italy, a full 40% of the people who went in to the hospital actually were young adults and middle-aged people.

Although again, deaths are still much more common in the elderly population.

But there is a group of younger people, younger and middle-aged people who are having fairly significant disease.

When people recover they seem to recover fully.

>> numbers at the beginning of your remarks.

You said that between the people are between the age range of 2 and 97 that have the virus in alabama.

You also said majority of them are males.

>> that's right, that's correct.

So the numbers that i gave earlier, it was about 53% male.

I think the age range was about age 2 to age 97.

The median actually was about age 44.

And so again, it's not necessarily what you would consider a truly random distribution.

I'm not confident that's accurate of all the cases in alabama given the relatively small numbers we have right now.

But certainly we know young adults and middle-aged people do get infected.

We may not see them as often.

We may not pick them up as offer if they're not having a severe disease.

And obviously the seniors are the ones that have the most severe disease.

>> what would it take to issue a state-at-home order?

At what point would the state consider that and are we close?

I know jefferson county has stricter guidelines right now.

But what would it take for either the state of jefferson county to issue a stay at home order.

>> the question has to do with a stay at home order.

That's something that would have to be done in conjunction with guidance from the governor's office and consultation with the legislature.

We certainly have public health recommendations we can make from time to time and we have not made that recommendation at all.

Public health orders obviously have a significant affect on people.

Affects their lives, afts their livelihoods.

It's very difficult to know in real time with the information you have if you're strict enough or too strict or if you have it just right.

Honestly, time is going to tell fuss we're right about that.

But a stay at home order would -- wouldn't be unilaterally issued by the health department but only after consultation with a lot of others.

>> in your professional opinion is the department of -- professional opinion, how many cases would we need to have?

What would the community outbreak have to look at to issue a stay-at-home order?

>> the question is how would a stay at home order -- what criteria would be used?

I don't think there's a specific trigger.

We're monitoring the outbreak every day and looking at number of new cases but also the rate at which we get new cases.

Certainly some of the decisions that have been made in california or in new york have to do with outbreaks in health care institutions, for example, or exposure of really vulnerable populations.

So i don't think there's a real clear criteria for that.

There's just a lot of factors that would have to be taken into account.

>> you mentioned earlier there were testing sides that your office or this department may be unaware of.

Why is that?

>> it's because some hospitals, for example, may have their own testing supplies.

They may have their swabs and transport media.

They may have an arrangement with a private laboratory.

We would eventually learn about the test results from the laboratory itself but they don't need our authority or our permission to set those up.

They're perfectly welcome to do those in their community.

And we would encourage that.

That increases the overall capacity and allows more people to be tested.

>> can you speak about the governor tweeted out that someone anonymously donated masks and other personal protection equipment.

Can you speak about that?

>> yeah.

I'm aware of that as well.

I don't know all of the details of that.

I would say that health care facilities in particular are really pushing hard to find personal protective equipment, so we're grateful for whatever person or organization made that available.

We would certainly encourage those in the private sector who have access to that to think about donating that to your hospital, to protect your health care providers.

We know there are certain non-medical industries that can use, for example, respirators and as a normal course of business and if people have additional supplies, we would encourage them to hook up with their local health care provider and hospital and consider making a donation.

It is so vitally important to keep our health care capacity running fully, and we've seen in other countries like italy in particular, how infections among your health care staff can devastate o your ability to take care of people.

>> we've gotten a lot of these questions to the newsroom.

People saying they have to come to work and there are hundreds of people in whatever plant manufacturing building.

How can they make us work when this is going on?

>> yeah.

To the question has to do with people in a work environment.

We do not issue health orders related to work environments.

We were speaking of social and recreational gatherings.

However, that said, our guidance for workplace is they need to try to encourage social distancing as much as possible.

It's very important for people to stay six feet apart if there's any way possible to do that.

But we do not have any health orders related to work environments.

>> doctor, when it comes to employees at those sorts of workplaces, if they feel that they're being placed in danger or something is wrong with that, is there a way for those people to report their businesses for not following guidelines when it comes to distancing?

>> i would say that guidelines are guidelines and i would encourage them to start with those conversations there in the workplace.

And then use what other avenues they may have when they have those issues.

In some parts of the country, and even in jefferson county, there have been health orders related to workplaces but we have not adopted that state-wide.

>> we've had a lot of people asking about day cares.

Can you just give us a clarification.

E-mailed saying, you know, they're confused that all schools have been mandated to close but then now day cares are allowed to stay open.

What's the recommendation here?

Not send your kid to day care if you can avoid it?

>> so the question has to do with day cares.

With day cares, we would prefer if people have the option to keep kids at home, if that's an option for them.

I think any time you have people gathered together there's a greater risk for disease transmission.

That said, we certainly understand that the reality that many people have of having to use day care.

So our health order that we amended on friday addressed the size of day care to try to minimize the size of those classes as much as possible.

Social distancing really probably isn't a practical suggestion in a day care, children aren't going to maintain a six-foot distance from each other.

I think that's really unlikely.

And yet we would say that that's the ideal we would like people to strive for.

It is very important to try to keep people apart even if day cares may be necessary for a lot of folks.

>> can you talk about why we haven't seen a lot of cases in the mobile, southeast alabama area?

You have a major international port there.

You have cruise liners that are in and out.

Also people go there -- it's a big tourism attraction spot.

>> sure.

The question has to do with the relative lack of cases that have been diagnosed in mobile.

I think getting their testing capacity up to full speed is the reason we haven't seen cases.

It's a big city.

It has all the features you mentioned that would make us suspect there are cases going on there.

So i think as the testing capacity increases there, we likely will pick up -- not likely, we definitely will pick up more cases there.

>> in recent days we've seen a growing number of state and federal lawmakers kind of questioning the effects of covid-19 on communities.

What would your say to these officials who questioning whether the cure is worse than the disease?

>> yeah, the question has to do with, i guess, the economic impact or maybe social impacts of health orders related to social distancing.

It's a very difficult balance.

I think all of us come at it from a different perspective in public health.

We are doing our very best to make our recommendations to protect the health and safety of our state.

That's our mission and our charge.

We have an organization that actually has a lot of great people who are very good the doing that.

At the same time, we understand that that's not the entire picture.

It may be the most important thing and yet it's not the only thing.

And so we do have to work very closely with other leaders in our state to make sure that we are seriously considering the impact of any health orders that we issue.

We spend a lot of time really agonizing, to be honest, over these issues because they really do affect people and we get that.

And so time will tell if we over-reacted or if we didn't act soon enough or if we maybe got it right.

But we certainly understand other people's concerns about the economy.

I think it's clear from what's happening in the world this has a dramatic impact on the economy and what we hope to do is to break the transmission cycle and get this over as quickly as we can.

>> i know i've asked you this before and a lot of people are still wondering this, and i know there's no crystal ball.

But a lot of people are just wondering, when will we get back to that point of normalcy?

For a lot of people this is uncomfortable in how they interact with their fellow human beings.

But are we looking at maybe extending this past that april 6 deadline or are we moving closer to, i guess, ending it sooner?

>> yeah, the question has to do with what's our timeline.

Our health orders, as you know, had an expiration date, if you will, of april 5th.

As we told you last week we'll evaluate those orders before that time and give guidance to the governor and discuss with other folks an try to get input before we make a decision on whether to continue that.

I would say alabamians ought to be prepared that might happen, that they might be extended.

But at this timic it's too early to say.

It is hard on people.

We are asking people to make a tremendous sacrifice and social isolation is isolation.

And as human beings we don't like that very much.

For people who aren't able to work right now, people in the food service industry, for example, those people are really hurting and we get that.

And we want them to get back to their normal lives as as soon e possible can.

We're trying to use all the available information that we can to see what the course of this epidemic is going to lock like in alabama.

>> i know you guys are constantly looking at this situation.

I know it's constantly evolving.

But at this point in time, how likely is it that schools will open up again april 6th?

>>: yeah, i'm not sure about the decision on schools.

I have a meeting actually with dr. mackey and the education folks today, this afternoon, where we'll go through all the different scenarios and try to make our best guest.

At this time we are forecasting a little bit and just trying to see iinto the fie future.

But that decision has not been made and i'm not sure we will be able to make it right away.

I think we'll wait until closer in time to decide.

I have time for a couple more.

>> doctor, when do you think based on what you know we can expect to see the virus peaking in alabalabama and does that depend on people staying home and social distancing?

>> the question is when can we see this peak.

And answer is it really depends on what alabamians do.

If alabamians are willing to engage in social distancing to avoid groups of people, to stay home when they're sick, to do all those hygiene things we talk about, we'll get through this a lot sooner rather than later.

Even if we do have cases that continue for a long time a much lower rate we'll actually be better off because that will preserve our health care capacity.

That will preserve the ability of government to respond when responses are needed.

That will allow a less people to be sick at any one time and there are so many reasons that's a good thing.

We'll get through this at some point.

We know we will.

But the more people are able to cooperate with these recommendations to engage in social distancing, the better we'll be in the long run.

>> can you get coronavirus, again, once you already have it?

>> the question is can you get reinfected.

The answer is, we don't know.

There are other coronaviruses that cause common colds that people are able to get again.

We do know that.

We don't know about this one yet.


Go ahead.

Last question.

>> when it comes to nusing homes, health care facilities that receive supplies and equipment deliveries, how can they kind of reduce the spread of infection or potential covid-19, the virus, if they're delivering to these places that are limiting visitation?

>> the question has to do with nursing homes and their ability to control infections.

With deliveries or with visitation or with their staff or whatever the case may be, nursing homes do a really good job of handling infections.

Infections are a threat for all, you know, congregate living facilities, whether it's a nursing home or an assisted living facility or, you know, dormitory or barracks or anywhere you have lots of people gathered.

Nursing homes spend a lot of time prepare for this and training staff and trying to prevent this.

There can occasionally be outbreaks in nursing homes of certain illnesses like influenza.

So this is not a new drill for them.

And i think they've got a good plan in place and can handle that.

All right.

Well, listen, thank you very much for joining us today.

We wanted to take an opportunity just to answer some questions from the public.

We'll try to do this again at a frequency that makes sense for you all.

And thanks again for being here.

Realtime closed captioning provg (615) 646-1386 >> you've been watching a live update from the alabama department of health, dr. scott harris saying the number of confirmed cases is 167 in alabama.

That number updated later today.

21 out of 67 counties now reporting cases.

No deaths in the state.

Regarding a stay at home order several states have put that in place.

New york, california among them.

Harris said that order would come from the governor's office.

At this point the health department has not made that recommendation.

Most of the cases reported now in are jefferson county so stricter orders are in place for them.

All nonessential businesses are ordered close in jefferson county but nowhere else across the state.

Answered a few questions.

Safe to give blood.

You don't have to bother wearing a mask in public.

Save those for the health care workers.

We have 24/7 coverage on our coronavirus


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