State health officer reflects on progress 2 years into pandemic
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - This month marks two years since the COVID-19 pandemic was confirmed in the state of Alabama. State Health Officer Scott Harris made it clear that we could have never been prepared for the impact.
“I don’t think the world was ready, said Harris. “We wish we had been better resourced, and better staffed and all those things to begin with, but I don’t think anybody could have really been prepared.”
Everyone around the world in some form has been touched by COVID-19. In our state, more than 18,000 people have died from the disease. Historically, the last two years will mark the most deaths we’ve ever had in Alabama.
“These aren’t just deaths, that would have happened anyway, that were just attributing to COVID, these are deaths that mostly wouldn’t have occurred,” said Harris. “We’re also going to have two straight years for the first time in the history of our state of more deaths than births in Alabama. That’s never before happened.”
Harris says when taking a closer look at how we’ve navigated this pandemic you can see a lot of things worked.
“I think at its simplest level, after two years we’re still standing. We have the economy open again, and we have businesses open again, we have schools open again. Our hospitals and health care facilities are still standing and still functioning,” said Harris.”
In January of this year the omicron variant spread across the state, causing cases and hospitalizations to surge upward. A record was set during that time with the test positivity rate reaching 45.2%.
“The degree to which omicron was infectious was really surprising,” said Harris.
Harris says with numbers trending downward, many Alabamians are now returning to some sense of normalcy. But he urges those with certain chronic health problems, immune system disorders and are vulnerable in any way to be very careful.
“Our numbers in just about every measurement are as good as they have been,” said Harris.
“We need to continue to be vigilant, we need to continue to do the things we know that can protect people,” he said.
The state is continuing to push more people to get vaccinated. Right now, Alabama trails much of the country with just over 2.3 million Alabamians fully vaccinated. While there is still work to be done, Harris is pleased with the fact that over 90% of residents over the age of 75 are vaccinated and African Americans are the highest vaccinated group is an accomplishment.
“That’s a success, and that absolutely saved lives,” said Harris.
Harris says lots of lessons have been learned during this pandemic. One of those has been battling misinformation and tackling logistics and shipping of test kits, vaccines, personal protective equipment and treatments.
“We’ve had a lot of partners in government who’ve helped us. We’ve had a lot of successes in getting a lot of those things out there,” said Harris. “But the sheer scale of it was something that just dwarfed our ability to do it as efficiently as we would like.”
As for concerns for the future, Harris says the biggest one is we don’t know what’s going to happen.
“We are undoubtedly going to see new variants, but are they going to be less severe or less transmissible? We certainly hope so,” said Harris. “We just don’t know. The way we respond to that is we do the very best thing we can to prepare people and protect people. And right now, the single best tool we have is the vaccine.”
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