DAPHNE, Ala. (WALA) – For months, Baldwin County was a strange anomaly when it came to the novel coronavirus, but the days of single-digit daily increases are over.
That Baldwin long avoided a major outbreak puzzled public health experts given that neighboring Mobile County led the state in COVID-19 cases for several weeks.
At 194.9 cases per 100,000 residents, Baldwin still ranks among the least-infected counties in the state on per capita basis. But when the Alabama Department of Public Health unveiled its new color-coded risk indicator dashboard this week, Baldwin was red. That represents a “very high risk,” the most severe of the four colors.
Zach Hood, Baldwin’s Emergency Management Agency director, told FOX10 News on Wednesday that the new rating merits attention from local residents.
“Everyone should understand what that graphic means,” he said. “What does it mean? Learn how to interpret these graphics.”
The reason why Baldwin appears in red is the spike that has occurred in the last two weeks. In that time, Baldwin added 309 new cases, about 45 percent of its total coming in just the last 14 days. It has recorded a double-digit increase nine days in a row after having fewer than 10 new cases a day all but four days through mid-June.
By contrast, Mobile County – where new cases have slowed – is one level down in orange.
Hood said the trend is concerning as the Independence Day holiday approaches.
“As far as case counts go, being high and Fourth of July, we are concerned with the fact that those numbers are high going into a busy – if not the busiest – time of year for Baldwin,” he said. “And what we want to make sure is that individuals are aware of the higher risk category that public health has put us in for the time being.”
Hood, whose agency helps coordinate the distribution of masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment from a national stockpile, said some area health care facilities still face a shortage of those items.
Included in the Health Department’s new risk assessment is a long list of recommendations for each color rating. For instance, the department recommends for counties labeled red:
- That children not be allowed on public playgrounds and to limit other interactions between children.
- That adults work from home, if possible.
- That people wear face coverings when six feet of separation is not possible – even when visiting friends and family.
- That groups be limited to no more than 20 people.
- That people consider ordering takeout or delivery instead of dining in restaurants.
Hood said the holiday presents special challenges.
“Obviously, tourism is huge here,” he said. “And what we know, based on what’s set up this weekend is that we are set to have a very busy weekend.”
Beyond the holiday, Hood noted, the Blue Angels recently announced that to ensure social distancing, it will spread crowds out between Pensacola and Orange Beach for its annual show this summer.
“And because of that, there’s more interest in Alabama beaches,” he said. “I mean, you know, people want to go catch a glimpse of the, not only enjoy the Fourth of July weekend but also the Blue Angels in town coming up next week.”
Hood, who has regular conversations with administrators of the county’s three hospitals, said current capacity is in pretty good shape. He said that early in the pandemic, when Baldwin had few cases and emergency room visits for other reasons were way down, there was more empty space than normal.
Now, Hood said, occupancy has risen to typical levels. But he said officials are mindful of the potential.
“We see that the numbers are rising,” he said. “We see that we’ve had a spike. It’s there. The evidence is there.”