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Alabama closes out week with uptick in coronavirus deaths: Week in review

Things have been relatively calm in Alabama’s fight with the coronavirus over the past few weeks, but an uptick in reported virus deaths over the last four days is a discouraging sign as the state gets ready for colder weather.

The Alabama Department of Public Health reported just over 6,750 new virus cases in Alabama this week. It also reported 103 total deaths – the first time in more than a month the state has reported at least 100 total virus deaths in a week.

[Can’t see the chart? Click here.]

And 90 of those deaths were reported in the last four days alone, as the state has reported double digit death totals in each of the last four days.

The 7-day average for total coronavirus deaths rose to 14.1 on Friday, the highest it’s been since Sept. 17. Prior to Thursday, that number hadn’t risen past 10 in two weeks.

A large number of the confirmed deaths reported this week came near Alabama’s coast. Mobile and Baldwin counties saw a combined 24 virus deaths between Saturday, Oct 3. and Friday, Oct. 9.

The state has now suffered 2,653 virus deaths since March. Because of the way deaths are reported, there is a lag between when someone dies of the virus and when they are listed in the state’s data. It’s unclear when the deaths reported this week actually occurred. The state reports deaths by date of death on its coronavirus dashboard, but it sometimes takes weeks for deaths to show up in that chart, and hundreds of deaths currently included in ADPH’s cumulative total don’t have a date assigned yet.

ADPH reported 6,767 new total virus cases this week, including around 4,900 confirmed cases and 1,900 probable cases. That case total represents a slight increase over the previous week, but is still down from two weeks prior.

[Can’t see the chart? Click here.]

The state’s caseload has been relatively flat since Labor Day. There was a slight uptick in cases in late September, which was at least partially caused by a backlog of cases from a private lab entering the system, according to ADPH.

But the 7-day average for new daily cases has increased by only around 100 cases since Labor Day itself. The average then was 855 cases per day. As of Friday, it stood at 966.

On Friday the state reported nearly 1,500 new cases, after showing significantly lower numbers for most of the week.

The state also reported nearly 12,000 new tests on Friday, which was also a significant increase, and could indicate another backlog of data entering the system.

[Can’t see the chart? Click here.]

The state’s positivity rate was 13.3 percent on Friday, and has hovered between 12 and 14 percent over the last few weeks.

Hospitalizations have remained mostly flat in the state over the past several weeks – though hospitals in Tuscaloosa and Auburn reported increases this week. The 7-day average for current virus hospitalizations statewide hasn’t risen past 800 since Sept.

Death of cat with coronavirus in Alabama being investigated

Alabama officials are investigating following the death of a cat that tested positive for the novel coronavirus. 

Officials with the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) and the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI) are leading the investigation, according to a news release from the health department. 

The cat, from Opelika, Ala., first tested positive for COVID-19, at The Thompson Bishop Sparks State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Auburn. 

However, “the laboratory veterinary pathologists found significant lesions in the nervous system that typically indicates bacterial infections, suggesting that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was NOT the primary cause of death,” officials said. 

LETHAL RABBIT VIRUS DISCOVERED IN CALIFORNIA FOR FIRST TIME

The National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) was then sent additional samples, later confirming that the cat was indeed positive for the novel virus. 

Public health veterinarians with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “have found that in nearly all animal deaths associated with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the animals had multiple infections or had underlying health issues at the same time. Thus far, less than 10 animal deaths in the U.S. are thought to have been associated with the COVID-19 pandemic,” per officials. 

“There is still a lot we just don’t know about how frequently animals become infected, so this has been an opportunity for us to gather information that might help us prevent more infections in companion animals,” said Dr. Dee W. Jones, state public health veterinarian, in a statement. 

“We’re working with the local veterinarian and the owner to gather more information about the animal’s medical history as well as other companion animals in the household. However, at this time during the pandemic, companion animals don’t seem to be at risk from suffering severe illness with the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” he added. 

Since the pandemic began, there have been various reports of cats — both domestic and wild — contracting the virus from humans. A tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York, for instance, tested positive for the coronavirus in early April after likely being exposed to it by an infected worker. Then, later that same month, two cats in New York became the first pets in the U.S. to test positive.

CAN THE CORONAVIRUS SPREAD IN POOL WATER?

However,  at this time, experts have maintained that there is limited evidence to suggests pets can spread the virus to humans. Indeed, “SARS-CoV-2 cases in animals are thought to be very rare, and have primarily occurred 5 to 10 days following exposure to a positive human,” Alabama health officials said. 

The CDC offers guidance to pet owners amid the pandemic, advising any sick owners to “restrict contact with your pets and other animals, just like you would with people” until COVID-19 is better understood.

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Alabama schools soon required to disclose COVID-19 numbers online

All school districts in Alabama will soon share information online about the number of positive cases of COVID-19 among students, staff and faculty members, according to Alabama Superintendent Eric Mackey.

The new dashboard is important for two reasons, Mackey said: “So people take it seriously, and so they don’t overreact.”

“We want to be fully transparent so that people know that there are cases in the community,” Mackey said. Knowing the level of spread, he added, helps people to continue to do the things needed to mitigate that spread.

The dashboard, in the works since late August, will be published on the Alabama Department of Public Health website and will include the number of positive COVID-19 cases in each school system, but will not be broken down by school.

Sharing the information publicly can also squelch rumors, too. “Sometimes these rumors get out that there are 100 people positive with it in the school,” Mackey said, “and there are actually three.”

Some school districts are already providing that information to parents in a dashboard format, through social media or directly to parents and community members through other channels.

Mackey said ADPH has had some technical difficulty getting the dashboard online and that the state department of education is now helping in that effort. He could not say when it will be online.

On Monday, Alabama’s chief medical officer Dr. Scott Harris told AL.com he is “pleasantly surprised” that schools have not been seen to be the source of major coronavirus outbreaks. “I give the schools that credit that they’re doing everything they can to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.”

“We’re very happy with the way things have turned out in school,” Mackey said. In a sampling of school districts statewide, he said, fewer than 1% of students and faculty have tested positive for COVID-19.

“In most cases, when we do go back and do the contact tracing,” Mackey said, “we find that patient zero, they got it from outside the school.”

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Rabies vaccine falling from the sky in 17 Alabama counties

Workers are using helicopters and trucks to distribute thousands of oral vaccines across a 17-county region of Alabama to help stop the spread of rabies.

The state health department says packets containing a vaccine meant to be found by raccoons will be distributed along roadsides in populated areas including metropolitan Birmingham. Trucks will be used for that work.

Vaccine packets will be dropped out of helicopters or low-flying airplanes over forests and other rural areas.

The packs consist of a plastic satchel that contains the rabies vaccine. The shell is coated with fishmeal or dog meal, and raccoons come into contact with the vaccine when they tear open the pack with their teeth.

The health department says the contents of the packet doesn’t pose a risk of rabies to other animals or human.

“Vaccination is very, very effective, with only rare cases of rabies occurring in vaccinated animals,” Dr. Dee W. Jones, the state veterinarian, said in a statement.

The work started Oct. 1. The program includes Bibb, Blount, Calhoun, Cherokee, Chilton, Coosa, Cullman, DeKalb, Etowah, Jackson, Jefferson, Marshall, Morgan, Shelby, St. Clair, Talladega and Tuscaloosa counties.

The state says more than 7,000 animal bites and potential rabies exposures are investigated annually.

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Alabama COVID mask order extended to Nov. 8

Update:

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey is extending the order requiring facial coverings in public places until Nov. 8.

The governor announced the extension at a press conference today in Montgomery.

Ivey and State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris issued the mask order effective July 16 as the state saw increasing numbers of coronavirus cases. The order was extended twice, most recently on Aug. 27, and was set to expire Friday. It is now extended through Sunday, Nov. 8.

Ivey mentioned the national election as one reason for extending the order past Nov. 3.

“I want everyone to (vote) and to be able to do it safely,” she said, adding that Alabama’s coronavirus case numbers saw consistent decline after the mask order was instituted.

The mask order requires people to wear coverings over their nostrils and mouth when within 6 feet of people from another household in indoor spaces open to the public, a vehicle operated by a transportation service, or an outdoor space where 10 or more people are gathered. Masks are not required for children 6 and younger, people with a medical disability that prevents wearing a mask, people voting, or those “actively providing or obtaining access to religious worship.”

Ivey also announced changed in policies that limited visitors to hospitals and long-care term facilities, including nursing homes.

Effective Oct. 2, nursing homes and other long-term care facilities may allow each patient or resident to be accompanied by one caregiver or visitor at a time.

Alabama currently has 154,701 COVID-19 cases, 137,564 confirmed and 17,137 probable.

Earlier:

Gov. Kay Ivey is planning a press conference today to provide an update on the state’s battle against coronavirus.

Ivey will be joined by State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris for the 11 a.m. press conference. The press conference is being live streamed, below. The announcement comes as Alabama’s mandatory facial covering order is set to expire on Friday. Ivey has indicated she plans on extending the order.

“Yes it has, and I know a lot of folks grumbled about it and still are,” Ivey said in an interview last week when asked about people being upset over the mask requirement. “But look. It’s working. Our students and teachers are back in school. Our businesses are open. We’ve got one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. And y’all it’s working, and so we’ve just got to keep on being strong.”

Alabama has seen a decrease in new daily cases, hospitalizations and the rate of positive tests since the order was put in place in mid-July.

Alabama nursing homes to allow limited in-person visits

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced Wednesday the resumption on Oct. 2 of limited in-person visits to nursing homes more than six months after they locked down in response to coronavirus.

Each nursing home resident will be allowed one caregiver or visitor at a time. Nursing homes can only permit indoor visits if they have not had a positive coronavirus case in two weeks, according to the Alabama Nursing Home Association. Facilities can limit the total number of visitors at one time and masks and social distancing will be required.

The Alabama Nursing Home Association provided the following guidance to family members:

· Do schedule an appointment to visit with your loved one

· Do use alcohol-based hand sanitizer before, during and after your visit

· Do wear a mask covering your mouth and nose during your entire visit in the facility

· Do maintain social distance of at least six feet from staff and residents

· Do keep out of areas that are not designated for visitation

· Don’t remove your mask while in the facility

· Don’t leave the designated visitation area

· Don’t come to the facility without an appointment

· Don’t come to the facility if you have any symptoms – coughing, sore throat, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of sense of taste or smell – even if you attribute these symptoms to some other cause (allergies or cold).

More than 6,000 nursing home residents and 3,000 staff members in Alabama have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since March. The facilities often house sick and elderly people at high risk of complications and death from the virus. But families have become increasingly concerned that policies designed to protect vulnerable residents have caused cognitive and physical decline as they struggle with isolation and loneliness.

“It’s important for nursing home residents and their family members to be able to visit in person and this is another step toward returning life to normal in nursing homes,” said Brandon Farmer, President & CEO of the Alabama Nursing Home Association. “We are pleased [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] is moving in this direction and thankful Governor Kay Ivey and Dr. Scott Harris amended the state health order to accommodate this change.”

Some Alabama nursing homes have scheduled outdoor visits with family members. However, state regulators did not require outdoor visits or video calls with loved ones. The new guidelines require facilities to accommodate visits unless there are reasonable safety concerns.The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said outdoor visits are preferable to indoor ones and should be encouraged whenever conditions allow.

Anna Braden of Huntsville joined the Alabama group Caregivers for Compromise to advocate for visits with nursing home residents, including her father, who lives in Madison. She said the announcement is a step in the right direction.

“This is the first time that Governor Ivey has ever said anything about the residents on lockdown in any of her press conferences,” Braden said. “I was excited about that. Now the next

Alabama governor extends pandemic rule requiring face masks

Published


MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Gov. Kay Ivey and health officials extended an order requiring face masks in public Wednesday, arguing that the requirement — while unpopular among many — has proven effective at helping control the state’s coronavirus outbreak.

The five-week extension, announced during a Capitol news conference, means the mask requirement will be in effect on Election Day and through much of the remaining high school and college football seasons.


Ending the mask ordinance could harm the state by leading to a “false sense of security,” Ivey said, and a “safe environment” is needed for in-person voting.

The mask rule, which took effect in mid-July, was set to expire Friday but will continue through Nov. 8 under a health order released by Ivey. It requires anyone over the age of 6 to wear masks in indoor public spaces and outdoors when it’s impossible to stay at least 6 feet (2 meters) away from others.



In a move aimed at combatting isolation among people in nursing homes and hospitals, residents and patients will now be allowed one visitor or caregiver at a time.

More than 2,500 people in Alabama have died of COVID-19, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins University, giving the state the nation’s 21st high death count. Alabama has reported 153,554 positive results out of 1.1 million tests for an overall positivity rate of 13.7%, according to the COVID Tracking Project.


But the illness caused by the new coronavirus has spread at a slower pace since the state enacted the

A suicidal teen needed help. In Alabama, she found only hurdles

On Sept. 24, 2019, Gina Moses received an unusual phone call from her teenage daughter. The girl was on vacation in Las Vegas and wanted her health insurance information.

When Moses asked why, everything tumbled out: The fight with her boyfriend, the suicide attempt and the trip to the emergency room. She called her mom from the hospital bed.

“She begged me to come get her,” Moses said. “She told me that she just wanted to come home.”

Moses lives in Albertville with her husband and two younger children. Within hours, she was on her way to Nevada.

“I stop and breathe and then pray for my daughter and for our family,” Moses wrote in a journal. “I pray for a safe trip to Vegas. I pray that I handle this in the right way to where it doesn’t affect the little ones.”

Moses and the teen spent the night in the same downtown Las Vegas hotel room where her daughter tried to take her life. When the boyfriend came back, the teen changed her mind about returning to Alabama.

“At that point, I realized just how delusional she was,” Moses said. “It was like she didn’t realize I had just flown all the way across the country to take her home.”

In Alabama, the daughter’s therapist said she would need residential treatment to learn how to subdue self-destructive thoughts. Under Moses’ insurance plan, the family’s out-of-pocket costs capped out at $875.

Then a problem emerged. Although the insurance plan covered residential mental health treatment, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama wouldn’t approve payment for the types of private programs the girl’s therapist recommended.

Her issues mirror those of other insurance customers nationwide who struggle to get access to mental health benefits, in spite of two federal laws passed to make it easier to get coverage. Such challenges have persisted despite rising rates of suicide across the nation and in Alabama.

In Alabama, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people in their teens and early twenties, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Alabama also has the nation’s smallest mental health workforce per capita, according to the United Health Foundation, and the least competitive insurance market. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama covers nearly 3 million people, or 86 percent of the private insurance market in the state, according to the American Medical Association. That leaves Alabamians with few options for care and coverage of life-threatening mental illness.

“Do I think we would have had a second suicide attempt if we had been able to get residential treatment the first time around?” Moses asked. “No. She would have been there six months and she would have been over it.”

Guidelines and gatekeepers

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama uses Kansas-based New Directions Behavioral Health to manage its mental health network and benefits.

New Directions acts as the gatekeeper for several Blue Cross plans, said Meiram Bendat, a California attorney involved in a lawsuit against the company.