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Should Butler County be a cautionary tale?

Citing Butler County as a cautionary tale, local medical experts say the threat of spiking COVID-19 transmissions is far from over.

“I think you just have to look at the numbers to see that,” said Amy Minor, chief clinical officers for Troy Regional Medical Center.

The Alabama Department of Public Health reported 11,216 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Friday afternoon, with 103 of those cases in Pike County. Last Friday, Pike County had reported only 87 confirmed cases.

“We are far from beyond dealing with this,” said Herb Reeves, Pike County EMA director. “Montgomery is listed as one of the top 10 potential hotspots nationally and we’ve seen the spike in Butler County. Here in Pike County, our numbers are up compared to what they were a week ago.”

Butler County had confirmed 252 cases, with eight deaths by Friday. And, both the mayor of Greenville and his wife have tested positive for COVID-19.

Minor said representatives of the Regional Medical Center of Central Alabama in Greenville had issued a call for help through the Alabama Department of Public Health and the Health Care Coalition on Friday.

“They had several employees who had tested positive and they were in need of nursing and other resources,” she said. “We didn’t have any nursing resources we could send, but we did accept one of their (non COVID-19) patients in transit.”

The need in Greenville offers a small, local glimpse into the issue of having enough medical resources available to treat patients, which has been at the heart of the COVID-19 stay-at-home regulations.

“It’s especially easy to see if you have a small clinical staff,” Minor said. “You may have beds open in your hospital, but if you don’t have doctors or nurses to take care of them, you can’t treat them.”

While more than 90 cases are attributed to one nursing home facility, Greenville Mayor Dexter McLendon has cited birthday parties, poker games and other gatherings as examples of residents not following social distancing guidelines and the state health order. “In a three week period, we’ve gone from 14 to 229,” McLendon said in The Greenville Advocate. “In the last week, we’ve gone up over 100… We still have people wanting to party and get together. I can assure you that I want to get out — but that’s not the thing to do … We realize a lot of these numbers have to do with the nursing home. But we also have a lot of people not abiding by the rules. We’re doing everything to stop that.”

Minor said health care officials continue to stress the need for social distancing and safety measures, even as businesses and government offices continue to open in Pike County. “The numbers themselves tell us that we need to stay diligent with prevention because the numbers statewide are growing fast,” she said.

Dr. Ben Smith with South Alabama Rural Health Associates repeated his call for continued social distancing and safety measures.

“I was in Walmart on Sunday and I was one of maybe 10 percent of the people in there wearing a mask,” he said. “And I thought, ‘oh, this is scary.’”

Like others, Smith said he has heard from many people who cite the rate of cases in Pike County and who question the validity of the threat of COVID-19 and challenge the need for continued safety precautions, such as wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings of people.

“I think we have done as well as we have for a reason – because we’ve been following the social distancing guidelines, we’ve been staying at home, we’ve been washing our hands and avoiding the spread … and it’s hurt us business-wise, ourselves at SARHA included.

“But if we can go another couple of months with good behavior, I’m hopeful we can get through this.”

Smith said he worries about gatherings at the beaches, Memorial Day barbecues and other events that draw large groups of people together. 

“I’m a little hesitant about what’s going on at the beaches right now,” he said. “People are just congregating, having barbecues, and that’s exactly what was going on in New Orleans … people said ‘we’re still going to cook out, we’re still going to have our BBQ’ and New Orleans became a hot spot.”