‘I’d like to see us all make it to next Thanksgiving’: Jeffco and UAB health leaders update COVID-19

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - “This is a sad fact going into the Thanksgiving holiday.” Jefferson County health officer Dr. Mark Wilson said the increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths in Jefferson County is hard to see.

Wilson and two UAB doctors spoke during a news conference Friday morning ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Wilson said Jefferson County is now averaging more than two deaths per day and that’s more than we have had in recent months.

He said increased cases in some schools can be linked to spend the night parties, Halloween parties with no mask wearing or social distancing.

Wilson said Georgia Tech performed a study that looked at having at least one person in a large gathering who has COVID, then there is a two out of three chance someone in the group will spread COVID-19.

Dr. Wilson said gathering in places indoors with poor ventilation is not a good idea right now. He said people should support businesses through outdoor dining, curbside pickup or drive thru.

Two vaccines are applying for emergency use from the FDA. Wilson said doctors hope to be able to vaccinate at least a few people in December. Those vaccines will first go to health care workers and first responders. Wilson said, “We need the public to understand vaccination for the general public is several months off.”

Wilson also said, “I know everyone is tired of the restrictions, tired of being told what to do. But if we can all pull together as a community and do the right things just for a while longer, we can all play a part in saving lives and keeping people out of the hospital for the holidays.”

Sarah Nafziger, M.D.: Co-chair of UAB’s Emergency Management Committee spoke second during Fridays news conference. Dr. Nafziger said cases have continued to rise in Alabama and Jefferson County. Because of the increase UAB has now again activated parts of their surge plan including isolating beds for COVID care. Nafziger said hospital leaders look at how many beds they will need compared to cases in the community.

With those additional designated COVID-19 beds you have to have a bed, staff and equipment available to take care of the patients.

Nafziger said the downside is when you have designated COVID resources, then other resources become scarce for other patients. Nafziger said, “If we continue down the path we’re on right now we’ll have to curtail services for things like elective care.”

The UAB emergency departments at the main campus downtown, at Highlands and in Gardendale are open to serve medical emergency needs.

Nafziger said right now Personal Protective Equipment supplies are okay, but UAB will continue to monitor those PPE supplies as shortages could happen in the future.

According to Nafziger UAB does a daily health check on employees and they are isolated when needed. She said as a whole UAB Health has been successful up until recently with keeping employee positive numbers down, but right now there are some staffing shortages because of the spread of COVID-19 cases in the public.

Michael Saag, M.D.: Professor of Medicine in UAB’s Division of Infectious Diseases was the last to speak Friday.

Dr. Saag said initially America had a surge in cases in March and April. Then a surge again in July and August. But Saag calls the numbers over the last three weeks a spike. Saag said the number of new cases has been staggering and he doesn’t use that word lightly.

Saag said after Thanksgiving, he’s afraid if we don’t change a little bit of what we’re going to do together that spike will have a spike on top of it.

Saag said he is encouraged by the vaccine data. He said the two vaccines are over 90% effective and looking forward we can start to begin to think about eliminating the epidemic.

But how long before that hope becomes reality? Saag said for enough people to be vaccinated we’re talking about the end of the summer 2021.

Saag said the best thing to do is to focus on Thanksgiving 2021.

The best metaphor he said is to imagine we’re in a combat troop together and we have to focus on what things we can do to combat this enemy.

Saag said consider that we’re on a tour of duty until Thanksgiving 2021 and what that will mean is everyone doing their part of wearing a mask, washing their hands, social distancing and not being around people who aren’t wearing masks.

Saag said he is gathering with family on Thanksgiving that include seven people, outside and distanced.

Saag said “I’d like to see us all make it to next Thanksgiving and too many of our friends and relatives have already been affected by this. Some of them become severely ill, some of them are dying. As a health care provider I hate that. I genuinely hate that.”

Dr. Mark Wilson said the Jefferson County Department of Health does not like getting law enforcement involved when it comes to the State health order, but he said they will be keeping their eyes on gatherings where people are in large groups and not social distancing. Wilson said, “If we need to call law enforcement we will.”

Dr. Saag: Consider COVID fight 'tour of duty'

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