MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – By nearly every metric, Mobile County and Alabama look like where they were during the last COVID-19 surge before vaccines became widely available, but new mask orders appear unlikely.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has been firm on that issue, even as she has lashed out at residents for refusing to get the shots. On Monday, epidemiologist Rendi Murphree said County Health Officer Dr. Bert Eichold was not likely to impose a mask mandate locally, either.
“We don’t need a mask mandate,” she said. “We need people to get vaccinated.”
Officials in southwest Alabama have treaded lightly on the politically charged issue of masks. The Baldwin County school system will not require them for the upcoming school year. The Mobile County school system will not, either, along officials said they will strongly recommend them.
Some businesses have instituted new rules, and public officials in some other parts of Alabama have taken a more aggressive approach. The Huntsville city schools, for instance, will require everyone older than 2 to wear masks while inside school buildings.
There are other signs everywhere of a pandemic resurgence. Hospitals are restricting visitation. Daily Mobile County Department briefings are back – at least for this week. And the state’s top doctor, Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, will address the media Tuesday.
The month of July is not even over, and already Mobile County has had more than 3,300 COVID-19 cases.
“That’s more than the months of April, May and June combined,” said Rendi Murphree, the director of the Mobile County Health Department’s Bureau of Disease Surveillance and Environmental Services. “It’s just extraordinary what we’re seeing. And again, more than half of the cases are recorded in 18- to 49-year-olds.”
Infections among unvaccinated residents younger than 50 are driving community transmission, Murphree said.
It’s not just cases. People are going to emergency departments with COVID symptoms in numbers not seen in months. A lot of them are getting admitted to hospitals. On July 12, only 33 COVID-19 patients were in Mobile County hospitals. By Sunday, that had ballooned to 143.
The percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive nearly hit 12 percent statewide last week. That’s the highest rate since January.
Murphree said she is seeing the impact not just in statistical reports but in her own daily interactions with acquaintances.
“I have close friends who whose entire families have been diagnosed with COVID,” she said. “And the mother is in the hospital, and they previously had elected not to get vaccinated. And now, everyone in their family has tested positive, and the matriarch of that clan, unfortunately, is hospitalized.”
Alabama remains dead last in the country, a hair behind Mississippi, with only 34.1 percent of the population fully vaccinated. The state is faring a little better when it comes to share of those receiving at least one dose – ahead of Mississippi, Idaho, Louisiana and Wyoming.
Murphree blames that rate, along with the Fourth of July holiday and the Delta variant for the current surge. Dr. Karen Landers, the assistant state health officer, said it is all the more reason why people should get the shots if they have not already.
“Where we are trending at the moment, we really need to take that intervention, regardless of what other measures potentially could be put in place,” she told FOX10 News. “I mean, today, if we’re not vaccinated, we can go get vaccinated. Tomorrow, we can go get vaccinated.”
The state continues to see very few infections among people who are fully vaccinated. The Alabama Department of Public Health recently reported that 96 percent of people who have died of COVID-19 since April 1 have been unvaccinated. Murphree on Monday said that also is the case for 90 percent or more of the people who have been hospitalized.