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ADPH: Avoid holiday gatherings

Pike County has lost more than 20 residents to COVID-19.

The county reached 21 confirmed COVID deaths with the Thursday morning update from the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Pike County also added 13 additional cases of the virus, bringing the 14-day positive rate to 31.87 percent.

“We’ve said all along that this has to become very, very real to people before they’ll take It seriously,” said Rick Smith, CEO of Troy Regional Medical Center. “With the number of unfortunate deaths in rapid succession, I hope people will take note that this happens in Troy and Pike County, Alabama, just like it does in big cities.”

Alabama added 4,695 new cases on Thursday, for a total of more than 310,330 cases and 4,254 confirmed deaths. More than 2,310 Alabama residents are hospitalized due to the virus and the state’s 14-day positive rate is 36.23 percent.

On Thursday, the ADPH urged Alabama residents to avoid holiday gatherings in an effort to curtail “significant community spread of COVID-19 that is not adequately mitigated.”

Any gathering with family and friends who live outside one’s own household can increase the chances of developing or transmitting the deadly virus, the ADPH said in a statement. “Postponing travel and staying home will protect yourself and others.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), high or increasing levels of COVID-19 cases in the gathering location, as well as in the areas where attendees are coming from, increase the risk of infection and spread among attendees. Alabama is currently experiencing high numbers of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said, “While we are pleased vaccine products have been authorized for emergency use, not nearly enough vaccine will be available initially, and it will be months before the public at large can be vaccinated. It is important that everyone continue practicing the measures that are effective in preventing transmission of COVID-19 including social distancing, mask wearing, hand hygiene, avoiding people who are sick, avoiding crowded, poorly ventilated indoor spaces, and monitoring their own health.”  

Holiday travel may increase your chance of spreading and getting COVID-19. While the best way to protect yourself and others this year is to stay at home, the CDC asks you to consider the following questions before making plans for yourself and your family:
·  Are you, someone in your household, or someone you will be visiting at increased risk for getting very sickfrom COVID-19?
·  Are cases high or increasing in your community or at your destination? The more cases in your community or at your destination, the more likely you are to get and spread COVID-19 as a result of your door-to-door travel. Check CDC’s COVID Data Trackerfor the latest number of cases in each area. Alabama data can be viewed at https://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/covid19/index.html
·  Are hospitals in your community or at your destination overwhelmed with patients who have COVID-19? To find out, check state and local public health department websites.
·  Does your home or destination have requirements or restrictions for travelers? Check state and local requirementsbefore you travel.
·  During the 14 days before your travel, have you or those you are visiting had close contact with people they don’t live with?
·  Do your plans include traveling by bus, train or airplane, which might make staying 6 feet apart difficult?
· Are you traveling with people who don’t live with you?
If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” you should consider making other plans, such as hosting a virtual gathering or delaying your travel. If the answer is “no,” and you decide to travel, the CDC advises you to take these steps:
· Check travel restrictionsbefore you go.
·  Check CDC’s Domestic Travel Guidanceand consider testing before and after you travel.
·  Get your flu shot before you travel.
·  Always wear a mask in public settings, when using public transportation, and when around people who you don’t live with.
·        Wear your mask correctly over your nose and mouth, secure it under your chin, and make sure it fits snugly against the sides of your face.
·        Stay at least 6 feet apart from anyone who does not live with you.
· Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
· Avoid touching your mask, eyes, nose and mouth.
· Bring extra supplies, such as masks and hand sanitizer.
· If driving, pack your food and limit stops.
· Know when to delay your travel.
CDC recommendations include the following for people over age 65, people with significant health conditions, or people who live or work with someone at increased risk of severe illness:

· Do not to enter any indoor public spaces where anyone is unmasked.

· Have groceries and medications delivered.

·  It’s safe to assume anyone who has gathered with people outside their immediate household is infected with COVID-19, regardless of their lack of symptoms. These individuals should isolate themselves from anyone at increased risk for severe disease and get tested immediately.

The CDC states that people with or exposed to COVID-19 should not host or participate in any in-person gatherings if they or anyone in their household:

·  Has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and has not met the criteria for when it is safe to be around others.

·  Has symptoms of COVID-19.

·  Is waiting for COVID-19 viral test results.

·  May have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the past 14 days.

·  Is at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

If you gather with people who do not live with you, activities held outdoors are safer than indoor gatherings. The CDC recommends:

·  Have conversations with the host ahead of time to understand expectations for celebrating together.

·  Bring your own food, drinks, plates, cups, utensils and condiment packets.

· Wear a mask indoors and outdoors.

· Avoid shouting or singing.

· Stay home if you are sick or have been near someone who thinks they may have or have been exposed to COVID-19.

· It’s okay if you decide to stay home and remain apart from others. Do what’s best for you.

Follow food safety practices at holiday celebrations. There is no evidence that handling or eating food spreads COVID-19, but it is always important to follow food safety practices. Also make sure to:

· Bring your own food, drinks, plates, cups and utensils.

· Avoid going in and out of the areas where food is being prepared or handled, such as in the kitchen.

· Use single-use options, like salad dressing and condiment packets, and disposable items like food containers, plates, and utensils.

· Use a touchless garbage can, if available.

The CDC offers important guidance and suggestions to the public about holiday celebrations at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays.html

The increasing spread of the virus is putting a strain on medical resources throughout the state. The University of Alabama at Birmingham said Wednesday it will bring in more than 120 nursing students to help fill the gaps at the hospital. In Dothan, Southeast Alabama Medical Center announced it was suspending elective surgeries due to the demands of treating COVID patients.

At TRMC, Smith said the hospital continues to adjust to try and stay ahead of the increasing spread. “We just added three more negative pressure rooms,” he said on Wednesday. “We’ve gone from three rooms when the pandemic started to 14 now.”

Vaccine distribution began this week at 15 hospitals across the state, and private pharmacies are expected to begin providing vaccines to nursing home patients within the next two weeks.

The initial rounds of vaccines are earmarked for front line healthcare workers and first responders, the elderly in nursing homes and other designated groups. The general public could see available vaccines in summer 2021.