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CDC issues guidance as Delta COVID-19 variant surges

Health officials are scrambling as the coronavirus pandemic continues to evolve. Although it seemed recently that the virus had been flattened to a manageable level, with restrictions being lifted everywhere, concerns have begun to balloon again as a new variant presents new threats.

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, more than 900 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized in Alabama – the largest number since February – and too few Alabama residents are vaccinated.

“The slope of the increase is unprecedented,” said state health officer Dr. Scott Harris. “This upward trend is extremely concerning, especially with the Delta variant being highly infectious and much more transmissible than earlier strains. Getting vaccinated is the best action you can take to protect yourself and those around you.”

The ADPH reports high vaccination coverage will reduce the spread of the virus and help prevent new variants from emerging.

Approximately 34 percent of Alabamians are fully vaccinated, according to the Mayo Clinic.

At their respective most recent board meetings, both Russellville and Franklin County school boards reported masking will not be required in local schools.

That was before the ADPH issued new guidance Monday.

In a 20-page PDF, the ADPH offered its specific back-to-school guidance on a number of COVID-related topics. It recommends masking, distancing, ventilation and other measures.

“The best CDC strategies for students to remain in the classroom, even if exposed to a positive COVID-19 case, are the use of masks, spacing, and vaccinations,” notes the ADPH information. “For those students too young for vaccinations, consistent and correct mask use and three feet (six feet is better) of social distance in classrooms will help students to remain in the classroom, and mitigate the further spread of the COVID-19 virus and prevent outbreaks.”

Harris said decision-making power will remain with local schools boards.

Local school boards will likely continue to address COVID policies as the situation evolves.

COVID has certainly continued to be a presence in Franklin County. In the past week, both Russellville Public Library and the Phil Campbell Town Hall have closed for COVID quarantine, and other businesses and offices have returned to a focus on curbside or drive-through service, limiting close personal interaction.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued the following advice and recommendations July 27:

  • Getting vaccinated prevents severe illness, hospitalization and death; it also helps reduce the spread of the virus in communities.
  • Unvaccinated individuals should get vaccinated and continue masking until they are fully vaccinated.
  • With the Delta variant, vaccination is more urgent than ever. The highest spread of cases and severe outcomes is happening in places with low vaccination rates
  • Data show Delta is different than past versions of the virus: It is much more contagious. Some vaccinated people can get Delta in a breakthrough infection and may be contagious, but vaccinated individuals represent a small amount of transmission occurring around the country.
  • Virtually all hospitalizations and deaths continue to be among the unvaccinated.
  • In areas with substantial and high transmission, the CDC recommends everyone – including fully vaccinated individuals – wear a mask in public indoor settings to help prevent spread of Delta and protect others.
  • The CDC recommends community leaders encourage vaccination and masking to prevent further outbreaks in areas of substantial and high transmission.
  • The CDC recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to elementary, middle and high schools, regardless of vaccination status. Children should return to full-time in-person learning in the fall with layered prevention strategies in place.

According to the ADPH, all Alabama counties are at a “High” transmission level, except Lamar and Macon, which are rated “Substantial,” and Perry, which is rated “Moderate.”

Messaging from Dr. Michael Mugavero, of UAB’s School of Public Health and the leader of Alabama United, echoes the CDC.

In an email to his team, shared with media, he urged people “not to gather in large groups indoors – whether bars, clubs, restaurant, concerts or churches – even if vaccinated.

“Delta is too contagious and way too easy to spread,” Mugavero said. “Our hospitals and ICUs are rapidly filling up. If persons do choose to gather indoors, distancing and masking are essential to reduce risk.

“It is time to get ‘back to the basics’ of testing, masking and social distancing, and if ever there was a time to get vaccinated, now is the time.”

The ADPH also rolled out a redesign of its COVID-19 dashboard this past week, in an effort to streamline the information and share it in a way that more closely aligns with CDC indicators.

“The CDC levels of community transmission are referenced in many guidance documents, including the K-12 guidance for schools, so it is important to align with those measures,” according to the ADPH. To view the dashboard visit alpublichealth.maps.arcgis.com/home/index.html.

The vaccine is widely available in Alabama in 1,408 locations. In Franklin County, sites include the county health department, Hometown Pharmacy and Family Pharmacy, Dr. Harry Kuberg’s office, CVS and Walmart, in Russellville. Clinics have also been held at various other locations, like the one this past week on the Russellville High School campus.

Visit the Alabama Public Health Vaccination Portal at www.alcovidvaccine.gov to locate a clinic.

For more information, go to www.alabamapublichealth.gov/covid19/index.html.

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