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New virus cases, hospitalizations continue to trend downward

MONTGOMERY — Alabama is continuing its recent progress in limiting the spread of the coronavirus with promising trends in new transmissions and hospitalizations. 

The Alabama Department of Public Health on Thursday reported 699 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the seven-day average of new cases to 855. That's down significantly from the peak of the seven-day average of 1,846 on July 20. 

Hospitals around the state reported 1,105 COVID-19 patients Thursday, the lowest total in more than a month, according to ADPH. Statewide hospitalizations peaked at 1,613 on Aug. 5. 

Assistant State Health Officer Dr. Karen Landers said these downward trends are a positive sign, but warned that Alabamians shouldn’t let their guard down.

“I think we need to look at our trends cautiously and be aware that certainly the measures of social distancing, practicing good hygiene, hand washing and the face mask order appear to have some effect, but we must remain consistent and we must remain diligent,” Landers said.

“That’s still well over 1,000 people hospitalized, and those are still very sick individuals requiring a lot of medical care. So I think it's improving but it’s certainly not where we need to be,” Landers said.

According to ADPH’s risk indicator dashboard, testing in many counties is meeting desired goals for the number of tests to gauge level of community spread.

“We are meeting our testing goal and in some instances, we are exceeding that testing goal,” Landers said.

Twenty-nine new deaths from the virus were reported Thursday, bringing Alabama’s total number of deaths to 1,876. The seven-day average for deaths is now down to 12 after peaking at 27 on July 27.

Landers said compliance with Gov. Kay Ivey's statewide mask order, which has been in effect since July 16, is contributing to the positive trends.

Calhoun County reached 2,072 cases as of the Thursday morning report from ADPH, 44 more cases than the day before. There were 385 new cases reported over the past 14 days, with 31 people hospitalized at Regional Medical Center in Anniston. The official death toll stands at 23, though local officials have said there are likely more deaths that not yet been classified as COVID-related.

Colleges begin reporting COVID numbers

Most state colleges and universities, including Jacksonville State University, have resumed classes in recent days. Alabama has made free COVID-19 testing available for all returning college students, and most schools have required a negative test in order to return to campus.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham and ADPH this month initiated a statewide COVID-19 testing and monitoring platform for college students called GuideSafe, which began administering tests on Aug. 4. 

Bob Phillips, executive director of GuideSafe Entry Testing, said Thursday the platform has tested about 75,000 college students statewide with a positivity rate of 0.75 percent — less than 1 percent.

"We've been operating our 13 collection sites around the state, and we've seen good consistent volumes of students logging in, signing up and getting their testing done," Phillps said. “For those students who haven't taken advantage of our testing capacity, please do. The more data points we have, the better informed each of our campuses can be in how to manage things.”

Dr. Georges Netto, chair of UAB's pathology department, said the low positivity rate on campus is consistent with other widely administered tests of latent populations, as opposed to those with symptoms seeking out tests. 

“The less than 1 percent positivity rate that we're seeing [among college students] is very similar to what we're seeing when testing employees in sentinel testing, or random testing,” Netto said.

Jacksonville State University on Thursday was reporting 44 active cases at JSU, according to the university’s online COVID dashboard.

Auburn University is reporting that currently 32 students and 8 employees on Auburn’s campus tested positive from Aug. 8-14.

On Monday, early results reported from the University of Alabama showed a less than 1 percent positive test rate among the students reporting tests. According to the most recent numbers available, 237 UA students tested positive for COVID-19 out of the 25,948 who completed testing either at one of the 13 GuideSafe testing sites statewide, through a mail-in test or by a personal physician.

Troy University is recording how many students and employees test positive across all their campuses, including off-campus students. Samford University in Birmingham is also recording their case numbers online.