As Alabama reopens, is the COVID-19 threat gone?

(Source: KSLA)
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) -- Epidemiologists from the UAB School of Public Health answered questions about Alabama reopening and the risk of contracting COVID-19.

Alabama has started to reopen, but does that mean COVID-19 is gone?

The answer is no, according to epidemiologists Suzanne Judd, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Biostatistics, Bertha Hidalgo, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology, and Cora E. Lewis, M.D., MSPH, chair of the Department of Epidemiology.

“Because we know that COVID-19 can be spread even by people who aren’t feeling sick, and because we’ve only tested about 2.7 percent of Alabamians, there are probably far more cases that we don’t know about,” Judd said. “Approximately how many? Well, studies conducted in Florida, New York and California suggest that the actual number of cases is probably six times the number of documented cases.”

In Alabama, there might be approximately 41,200 COVID-19 positive infections. While that is less than 1 percent of the total population in Alabama, doctors say it means there are plenty of people who could spread the virus. This means many more people could become sick in the upcoming months.

“According to the Alabama Department of Health, investigators will never ask for social security numbers or money, or try to sell products, which is what many scammers will do,” Hidalgo said. “If patients live in Jefferson County or Mobile County, they will be contacted by someone from those health departments, and not the ADPH."

Since COVID-19 is still out there, how will we work to prevent people from getting the virus once businesses begin to reopen?

UAB doctors say there are some strategies to staying healthy:
► Wash your hands before you eat, wipe your eyes, blow your nose, bite your nails or touch your face.
► Do not touch your face. When you leave home, keep your hands off your face.
► Try to maintain at least 6 feet of distance between yourself and others where possible. Respect others’ space so that, if they or you do accidentally sneeze or cough, there will be less risk of spreading the virus.
► Wear a face mask while in public. It is important for you to wear a face mask at all times in case you are a silent carrier. Silent carriers are people who have the virus that causes COVID-19, but do not know they are sick.
► If you are sick, stay home. Even if you think it is just a cold, it could be COVID-19 because some of the symptoms are the same. Work with your employer to develop a plan so that you do not have to come into your workplace. If that is not possible, be sure you wear a face mask whenever you are feeling unwell.
► If you have been contacted by a health department official saying someone near you recently had COVID-19, stay home for 14 days. If it is not possible to stay home for 14 days, be sure to wear a face mask when you go out, and pay attention to how you feel over the next 14 days.

Is it OK to see family and friends in person now?

According to Dr. Hidalgo, it is best not to do so, especially if friends and family fall into high risk categories for COVID-19.

“We recognize that people are eager to see their friends and family. Our infection and death counts have not decreased, which means that our risk for infection and infecting others remains as high as it was before stay-at-home orders went into effect,” Hidalgo said. “If you have family members who are considered high risk, it is very important to continue physical distancing.”

People with higher risk for severe COVID-19 infections are those who have:
● Asthma
● Chronic lung disease
● Diabetes
● Serious heart conditions
● Kidney disease and on dialysis
● Severe obesity
● People age 65 years old and older
● People in nursing homes or long-term care facilities
● Compromised immune systems
● Liver disease

Will guidelines be different depending on if you live in a rural or urban area?

Whether you live in an urban or rural area, public health recommendations continue to be to maintain a distance of 6 feet whenever possible, covering your face when in public and frequent handwashing.

“Maintaining a 6-foot distance between you and others may be challenging in certain locations within urban areas simply because there are more people. However, just because there are fewer people in rural areas does not mean that COVID-19 will not spread in all areas. It is important to be very careful, no matter where you live. Physical distancing is especially important to consider in the context of gatherings, and especially in enclosed spaces. Close interactions with others is how the virus spreads most easily.” Hidalgo explained.

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