- Associated Press - Monday, November 23, 2020

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Doctors and health officials on Monday pleaded with people to take precautions during Thanksgiving - such as skipping large indoor gatherings - as the state and nation experiences an unchecked spread in COVID-19.

“Please do everything you can possibly do to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. We don’t want this to be the last ever Thanksgiving for someone in your family like your parents or grandparents,” Harris said.

Harris said Thanksgiving, and how it is handled, will determine what December and Christmas look like. “We are not going to get a do-over on this…. please be careful, please be safe.”

The state is seeing the highest number of daily new cases since the pandemic began and an increase in hospitalizations, he said. As of Monday, about 1,400 people were in state hospitals with COVID-19, slightly below the summer peak of about 1,700.

According to the COVID Tracking Project, the 7-day rolling average of daily new cases in Alabama has risen over the past two weeks from 1,386 new cases per day on Nov. 8 to 2,097 new cases per day on Nov. 22.

“Alabama is seeing its numbers go up, just like every other state in the country right now. We are not headed in the right direction. We are adding a couple thousand new cases a day at least,” Harris said.

Harris said the state’s overall mortality rate from COVID-19 is about 1.5%. He said while that may sound low, it is about 15 times the mortality rate from the flu and the risk increases dramatically with age. He said the mortality rate for people over age 75 is about 20%.

Dr. Kierstin Kennedy, the chief of hospital medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, said the traditions of Thanksgiving - gathering indoors and eating, talking and laughing - are ripe for spreading the virus.

“It’s the perfect set-up for us to spread COVID,” Kennedy said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued holiday guidelines and noted that celebrating virtually or with members of your own household poses the lowest risk. Recommendations include limiting the number of attendees as much as possible so people from different households can remain at least six feet apart, moving events outdoors and avoid gatherings in crowded, poorly ventilated spaces with persons who are not in your household.

Harris and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mary McIntyre discussed how they are handling the holiday. Harris said he and his wife will be at home on their own.

McIntyre said she is limiting her gathering to a total of seven people and will visit with other family members via Zoom, including their tradition of saying what they are thankful for this year. They will use masks and temperature checks. McIntyre said she will serve all the food instead of having the normal buffet.

Since the pandemic began more than 230,000 people in Alabama have tested positive for COVID-19 and more than 3,400 people have died.

Alabama has developed a distribution plan for the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available. Frontline health workers and those at highest risk for poor outcomes from COVID-19 will be the first groups eligible to get the vaccine.

“As you know, it is going to be a scarce resource at first,” Harris said.


Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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