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Nearly 1,300 in Calhoun County have COVID-19; official death toll rises

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The Calhoun County Health Department conducted free drive-thru COVID-19 testing at Alexandria Elementary School Thursday morning. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)

At least eight people are now dead from COVID-19 in Calhoun County, according to the state's official count, though local officials have said three more recent deaths will likely be added to the toll.

According to numbers released Thursday morning by the Alabama Department of Public Health, 1,297 people in Calhoun County have been diagnosed with coronavirus since the pandemic began. The official death toll moved up from six to eight Thursday, though the local officials have said there are likely 11 people in the county who've died from the virus. The official count from ADPH often lags behind numbers observed by local health officials. 

“I’m told that their central office is very behind on their death reporting,” said Michael Barton, director of the Calhoun County emergency management agency. Asked if that reporting lag could mean statewide death numbers are artificially low, Barton said that’s possible.

The virus has surged across the state throughout July, with 83,495 infected statewide and 1,516 dead, according to the state count. Health officials in a Wednesday news conference said that surge was likely due in part to gatherings held on Independence Day weekend. 

Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday ordered an extension to an order requiring most people to wear masks in public, an order intended to prevent the spread of the virus. 

“Wearing a mask can’t hurt, but it sure can help,” Ivey said at the Wednesday event.

That order was set to expire this week; Ivey extended it to the end of August, and declared that it will also apply in schools. 

When the mask order was first imposed in mid-July, health officials said it would take a few weeks for mask use to bend the curve of new infections. There were some indications Thursday of that delayed effect. The 14-day average of new infections statewide has declined in recent days, though only by a little. 

Barton is less optimistic about Calhoun County’s numbers.

“I still don’t see us at a plateau,” he said.

Barton said there were 46 people in the hospital with COVID-19 in the county Thursday, with 16 of them on ventilators. The total number of hospitalized patients has remained in the high forties this week, even though some coronavirus patients are being discharged. 

“For every one who gets discharged there’s almost always another patient in the emergency room waiting to be admitted,” Barton said. 

The Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce announced Thursday that it wouldn’t hold its usual forum for candidates in the Aug. 25 municipal elections. The group cited the continued local spread of the virus.

“We felt this was the right decision,” said Chamber director Linda Hearn. “We didn’t want to put anyone at risk.”

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.