The local spread of COVID-19 continued to slow this week, a likely result of more mask use and hand-washing, Calhoun County’s emergency management director said Friday.
“Our hospitalizations have decreased, and new admissions to the hospital have decreased, EMA director Michael Barton said.
As of Friday morning, 1,867 people in the county had been diagnosed with the virus according to numbers from the Alabama Department of Public Health. The official death toll stands at 19, though local officials say they believe 30 people in the county have died from the virus.
But the spread of the virus, which surged in July and early August, now seems to be coming down from its peak. For the past three days, the state has seen fewer than 1,000 new cases per day. Last month the state averaged more than 1,000 cases per day.
Barton said that locally the July surge in new cases and deaths may have convinced people to begin wearing masks and following social distancing rules more consistently.
“Unfortunately, we got to a very high level of community spread, to the point that people began to see that it was dangerous,” Barton said. “I think the community reacted.”
Louis Bass, CEO of Regional Medical Center, said the hospital housed 33 COVID-19 patients Friday, compared to 55 one week earlier.
“Must be the masks,” Bass said.
Local officials are still concerned about the coming start of school next week, both at Jacksonville State University and in most local K-12 school systems. Barton and Bass both pointed to the models produced by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
Those projections show new cases in Alabama declining well into October — then beginning to swing upward again.
IHME predicts a slight upswing if masks are still required in October — but a far steeper increase if masks and other social-distancing rules aren’t used, eventually rising beyond 10,000 new cases per day.
The current state public health order, which requires masks in public places, expires at the end of August.
Health officials in the past have said they are concerned that a second wave of COVID-19 in fall and winter would coincide with the annual influenza season, putting additional strain on hospitals.
Barton said Friday there is some hope that the flu season this year won’t be as bad as normal. Precautions against COVID-19 could also slow the spread of the flu, he said.
Barton said one of the biggest concerns now is that people will become lax in social distancing.
“People need to realize that COVID is a killer,” he said.