The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Coffee County over the past 14 days escalated to more than 500, and local officials continue to ask citizens to follow the state’s Safer at Home Order, to include the wearing of facial covers when in the public and/or within 6-feet of another person outside one’s household. The current Safer at Home public health order, amended Dec. 9, 2020, remains in effect until 5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22, 2021.

Over the past 14 days, the Alabama Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 dashboard [as of Tuesday morning, Jan. 5th] showed Coffee County had 531 confirmed cases of COVID-19 during the 2-week period. That brought the counties overall total of confirmed cases [since tracking began in March, 2020] to 3,788 cases.

“Our numbers are not much worse but also not better,” Coffee County EMA director James Brown said Tuesday, Jan. 5, regarding the past two weeks. “We also think we may have reached testing capacity, and so we don’t plan on seeing our reported numbers grow exponentially from where they are currently. In fact, we are only expecting numbers to grow if our positivity rate continues to climb [number of positive tests out of all tests given].”

Brown said this does not mean the county won’t have more cases in the community, but instead that it might not be able to test everyone that has symptoms. He said his office had been in contact with ADPH about adding additional testing times in the county but manning is stretched to capacity.

Of the 531 cases in Coffee County for the two weeks, 327 of those were confirmed Dec. 29th – Jan. 4th, according to numbers from the ADPH website. There were 60 new cases identified on Dec. 29; 50 new cases on Dec. 30; 57 new cases on Dec. 31; 50 new cases on Jan. 1; 43 new cases on Jan. 2; 21 new cases on Jan. 3; and 46 new cases on Jan. 4.

“We do expect more cases after the Christmas/New Year’s holidays, but again we may not see the climb in number of ‘reported cases’ if we have truly meet our testing capacity,” Brown said. “This may only be evident as hospitalizations go up again in about 3-4 weeks or so from now.”

As for hospitals, he said the numbers are not good currently. 

Brown said there were 3,080 COVID-19 patients in Alabama hospitals as of Tuesday – 20.27 percent of all hospitalizations. He added that 92.14 percent of all ICU beds in Alabama were full earlier this week.

“Locally, some look worse and are in negative territory for ICU beds,” Brown said. “Not all hospitals report this information to the public, and we cannot share individual hospital capacity numbers unless there is an operational need to do so.”

Also, earlier this week, Alabama maintained the number two spot in the country among states for COVID-19 positivity rate going from 38.7 percent last week up to 46.7 percent this week.

Brown said this indicates that almost half of the tests taken in Alabama are coming back positive, indicative of very high community spread.

“During the last report on COVID-19 cases in Coffee County, we stood at just under 37 new cases per day over the previous two-week period,” Brown said. “This week we went up one a day at 37.9 cases a day [531 cases over the last two weeks].”

Brown said ADPH had not added any new deaths to the county’s numbers as of Tuesday morning of this week; however, he said Coffee County’s death numbers had doubled over the last month. Coffee County was reporting 17 deaths on Dec. 3, 2020, but as of Tuesday, Jan. 5, there had been 38 deaths reported for Coffee County [20 listed as confirmed due to COVID with 18 listed as probable].

“For figuring, we can expect about one percent of those diagnosed to pass away [of some cause], and we can expect about 13 percent of those diagnosed over the last two weeks to need hospitalization with 3-4 weeks of diagnoses,” Brown said.

Brown said he expects the true number of COVID cases to continue to climb, but he does not expect to see that climb necessarily reflected in the numbers distributed by ADPH.

“We also don’t see things improving in the near future as the public lacks confidence in the reported case numbers and viability of the vaccine,” he said. “Without large numbers receiving the vaccine the situation will continue to compound.”

Brown said another unfortunate thing to consider is that as the matter continues to progress fewer people could be staying in quarantine when testing positive or being exposed to the virus because they are not convinced of the seriousness of the pandemic. 

“We also don’t see people convinced or their minds changing unless [an if] they have a negative personal or family experience with this virus,” Brown said. “We need to continue to encourage people to listen to the recommendations and even go beyond the big three [wear a mask, wash hands, social distance]. I know I have added ‘clean all surfaces’ to my list.”

He added, “We can also encourage the public to refrain from participation in large group activities, especially indoors, and ask them to stay home as much as possible [and not travel].”

As of Tuesday, ADPH reported 226,280 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine available with 42,810 administered. Brown said he had not heard any news on when the vaccine administration would move into “Phase 1B” to include all first responders.

“We do remain confident in our previous predictions, however, that less people will get this vaccine than those that get the flu vaccine,” Brown said. “We have been told that some pharmacies may be receiving doses of the vaccine ‘soon’ and this will improve the ability to distribute and open it up to more people.”

For now, he said, “We pin our hopes on the best and continue to plan for the worst.”

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