State health leaders blame Delta variant and low vaccination rates for spike in new COVID-19 cases

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ALABAMA – State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris painted a stark picture of COVID-19 in the state during a press briefing Tuesday morning. He began the briefing with statistics. More than 15,000 new cases were confirmed in the last two weeks.

Harris said more than 900 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized across the state, up from 179 days before the Fourth of July holiday.

If you feel like you’ve got a case of deja ‘vu, it might be because Harris says new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are looking a lot like they did in February.

“The slope of this increase, the rate at which the hospitalization numbers are going up is unprecedented in Alabama. We had a much more gradual climb in our numbers before. This has shot up really, really quickly, which is very concerning,” said Dr. Scott Harris. “We have typically seen jumps in cases, followed by jumps in hospitalizations, and followed soon thereafter in jumps of numbers of deaths.”

Harris painted a stark picture of the reality we’re facing, saying the Delta variant and the state’s low vaccination rate are to blame.

He has a message for Alabamians.

“Please get vaccinated because you are much less likely to get sick or die.”

He says about 37% of people 12 and older in the state are fully vaccinated. It’s one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.

“It’s really disappointing,” Harris said.

As to why he thinks there is vaccine hesitancy, he said there are as many reasons as there are people who don’t want the shot. He did make a point to mention people getting their news on social media and the prevalence of misinformation on those platforms.

Harris says the state is working to track breakthrough cases, which is when a person who is fully vaccinated tests positive for COVID-19. He says according to the data they currently have available; they’ve identified 3,250 breakthrough cases which is 0.2 percent of fully vaccinated Alabamians.

He was asked about vaccine incentives during the briefing. While state officials are urging people to get the COVID-19 vaccine, they are not planning to create monetary incentives to get vaccinated. 

“We’ve had a number of discussions however with our legal folks, and with the Attorney General’s Office over what we are actually legally able to do and there are limitations there. It’s not an excuse it’s just a statement of the truth,” Dr. Harris said. “At this point, handing cash in order to induce them to get vaccinated is not going to be an option for us.”

Dr. Scott Harris says it’s also hard to determine how effective those measures really are. 

Tuesday the CDC issued new guidance for masking indoors to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in certain areas that are considered “high risk”. All but six Alabama counties fall into that category according to the CDC. Harris called the new guidance smart. He says regardless of a person’s vaccination status, there are situations where it would be smart to put masks back on. But the state will not implement a mask mandate.

“I think we learned even when we had a mask mandate, people aren’t going to wear a mask if they’re not going to wear a mask.”

Harris says the idea of not creating a mask mandate also extends to schools. He says masking will be a decision made at the district level.

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