Flu cases have been widespread across the state this year, but not in Bill Wakefield’s department stores.
The president and CEO of the Anniston-based Wakefield’s Inc., which runs the Martin’s Family Clothing retail chain, said about five of his workers were out sick with the flu in the last two weeks.
“It hasn’t caused us any issues ... we’ve got plenty of other people who can always work overtime,” Wakefield said. “It’s been an inconvenience but not a major problem.”
The latest federal and state reports show the flu outbreak this year is still widespread across Alabama and the United States. However unlike other parts of the country, the flu has apparently only mildly impeded Calhoun County businesses, schools and government agencies, but has pushed them to take extra precautions against further infections.
“We have added extra hand sanitizers in every store for employees,” Wakefield said. “And we have spread information about the flu.”
A Friday report from the Alabama Department of Public Health shows Calhoun and 55 of the state’s 67 counties still have widespread flu activity. Also, the department is investigating 52 possible flu-associated deaths so far this year. The Gadsden Times reported Cherokee County recorded its first flu-related death of the year last weekend.
The latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the flu is widespread in 48 states, with 17 deaths attributed to the disease nationwide last week.
Dr. Rachael Lee, assistant professor in the division of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said the situation still hasn’t reached pandemic levels.
“We are currently in an epidemic, meaning that we are seeing a higher than predicted number of flu cases,” Lee said. “Pandemic flu occurs when a new flu virus that has never been identified is reported across the world.”
Lee added that this year’s flu season still hadn’t reached its peak and recommended people get vaccinated for their protection.
Calhoun County Probate Judge Alice Martin said all of her office’s workers were vaccinated and that so far, none have been out sick with the flu.
“But we have had people come to court with the flu and we’ve had to excuse them and send them home,” Martin said. “And we’ve had numerous customers coming in with protective masks.”
Regional Medical Center in Anniston began providing visitors with protective masks last month to help prevent the spread of the flu after it began seeing a large uptick in flu cases in its emergency room. The hospital has also restricted visits to two adults per patient to keep the flu from spreading. Also, children under 12 years old are temporarily prohibited from hospital visits.
Karen Roper, county revenue commissioner, said her office has only had two employees sick from the flu this year.
“We did put up windows a number of years ago, so that helps protect our employees from the public,” Roper said. “We’ve been keeping them wiped down and disinfected,” she said of the windows.
Darren Douthitt, superintendent of Anniston City Schools, said about 50 students and fewer than 10 employees have been out sick with the flu so far this year.
“We’ve had some people out, but it has not been overwhelming at any one school,” Douthitt said. “We’ve tried to be proactive, letting the students know to wash their hands to help keep germs from spreading.”
Lesa Cotton, health services director for Calhoun County Schools, said county schools had seen above-average numbers of flu cases all year.
“It varies from one school to another — it’ll get better at one school, then another school will elevate,” Cotton said.
Herb Clark, vice president of human resources at transit bus manufacturer New Flyer in Anniston, said the plant has had about 20 workers out sick in the last few weeks.
“It hasn’t affected operations in the facility, but it has been more folks out sick than normal,” Clark said. “We have put out hand sanitizers as an additional precaution throughout the facility.”