State health officials moved Calhoun County into the “high risk” category for the spread of COVID-19 on Friday, a status that has local leaders watchful but not alarmed.
“We’re not seeing a rapid rise in cases this week, but it is staying level and that’s cause for concern,” said Calhoun County Emergency Management Director Michael Barton.
The Alabama Department of Public Health declares risk levels for each county in the state, and its Friday numbers put Calhoun County at “high risk,” the second-highest risk level.
Barton said a step up or down on that scale isn’t necessarily significant. The risk dashboard is updated automatically, he said, based on data collected by ADPH. Barton said Calhoun County landed in the high-risk zone because more than 10 percent of COVID-19 tests came back positive for more than two weeks in a row.
Local officials are more concerned about other developments, such as the recent increase in the number of people hospitalized with the virus. Anniston’s Regional Medical Center saw a surge in new COVID hospitalizations last weekend, going from about 18 people hospitalized to 31 a few days later.
RMC CEO Louis Bass said those numbers have stabilized this week, with 29 people hospitalized on Friday afternoon. Bass said hospital staff have adapted to the higher patient population.
“We’re in good shape right now,” Bass said.
Health officials still haven’t solved the mystery behind last weekend’s surge. The rise in hospitalizations happened even though there hasn’t been a clear increase in the spread of the disease. The average number of daily new cases has remained fairly steady for weeks.
There is a similar trend statewide, with more hospital beds in use even though new infection rates aren’t significantly rising.
That’s not true everywhere in the state. In Talladega County, the daily number of new infections has been increasing throughout October, according to ADPH numbers. Attempts to reach Talladega County emergency management officials for comment Friday were unsuccessful.
Epidemiologists have warned for weeks of a second wave of coronavirus infections as late fall and winter approach.
As of Friday morning, according to ADPH numbers, 4,003 Calhoun County residents have been infected with COVID-19, and 51 in the county are confirmed dead from the virus.