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FLORENCE, Ala. — COVID-19 cases are rising across the globe. In the United States, health officials say the highly contagious Delta variant is to blame for almost all new cases.

In July, the Alabama Department of Public Health said here in the state, unvaccinated people make up 96.2 percent of COVID-19 deaths.

State health officer Dr. Scott Harris said vaccines are the best defense in preventing serious disease and death.

Florence Mayor Andy Betterton agrees and wants to see more Lauderdale County citizens taking advantage of the vaccine.

“We’re about 34—between 34 and 35 percent, Betterton said. “I think recently, vaccination rate has gone up somewhat in Lauderdale County but also the infection rate has gone up.”

To encourage more citizens to get vaccinated, Mayor Betterton has accepted the Alabama Hospital Association’s Mayors’ Challenge.

“It’s a mayors’ challenge to try to get the vaccination rate in Alabama up 20 percent,” Betterton said.

The mayor said this is in no way a vaccination mandate. He added that he personally understands the impact of the virus and wants citizens to be informed.

“I did lose my father, I did have COVID, I’ve been vaccinated, and I’ve been watching this very, very carefully,” Betterton said.

Betterton said his message to citizens, in a time when so much misinformation is going around, is to make informed decisions by discussing options with their healthcare providers.

The mayor’s challenge is supported by the statewide “We Can Do This Alabama!” initiative. Unvaccinated citizens who would like to participate should plan to receive their first vaccine dose by Labor Day.