Coffee County Emergency Management Agency Director James Brown updated the county commissioners Monday morning on the number of new cases of COVID-19 in the county as well as discussed potential plans for dispersing the vaccine.
Over the last 14 days, the county has seen an increase of 757 new cases, bringing the total since March to 4,181. Five new deaths were also reported in the last week, bringing the total number of deaths to 43.
“I really take this personally and I really feel like I have failed to convince people this thing is real. I’ve failed to convince people that they need to wear their mask, they need to wash their hands and they need to social distance,” Brown said. “And because of my failure, 757 cases were reported in the last 14 days. This is unbelievable. I don’t care what you call this, I don’t care if you believe that COVID doesn’t exist, but something is out there that is sending people to the hospital and we need to do something now.”
Brown said the hospitalization rate has more or less stayed the same over the last 11 months with around 10 percent—currently closer to 13—of patients being admitted to the hospital.
“So you can see, with 757 cases, that means in the next two to three weeks we’re going to need 76 more beds. We have a 99-bed hospital and it’s already full or near-full,” he said. “The numbers fluctuate every day and they try to discharge as many people as they can so they can make more room. Our hospital workers are over taxed right now and it’s going to get worse.
“Even if we bring these numbers down, let’s say only 5 percent—and include younger people getting this and might not need the hospital—that’s still 38 people that are going to need a hospital bed in the next two to three weeks, and we’re full or near full. That’s the reality of our state. Our current numbers for ICU beds in the state is 96 percent full—that’s if you count every ICU bed in Alabama. Some areas are worse off and are in the negative numbers for ICU beds. So, we need people to take this seriously.”
Brown said one of the biggest ways to make a difference going forward is for individuals to get the vaccination as it becomes available, though he acknowledged the rollout has left a lot to be desired. Of the 226,240 vaccines allocated to Alabama, only 42,810 doses have been administered. While the EMA has no role to play in dispersal, he said they’re doing all they can to support the Alabama Department of Public Health’s efforts behind the scenes. One way is by encouraging as many organizations, businesses and healthcare providers as possible in the community to sign up for an ImmPRINT account on the ADPH website. With the ImmPRINT account, each organization will be given a certain number of vaccines to distribute to its employees.
“We need as many providers out there as possible because ADPH cannot do this by themselves. It’s unfortunate, but the reality,” Brown said. “Just to show you how needed this is, ADPH has opened a hotline for appointments for 75 and older and the rest of our first responders. In the first 24 hours of that hotline being open, they had 1.1 million calls. I can’t tell you how many of those calls were answered, but I can tell you it’s a very minute portion of that 1.1 million. That tells you people want to get this vaccine, and we’re going to have to come together as a group to try and help ADPH out.”
Brown said he would like to see the municipalities, as well as some of the larger businesses in town, become providers to help with issuing the vaccine to the general public, not just their own employees.
“If we can get ADPH to give us vaccines under that account, then we can open up our own sectors to give the vaccine to our own people, and to me that’s the best way to move forward. We can help ADPH out and ourselves out,” he said. “If we don’t do that, we’re going to be way behind the state and pharmacies and everyone else who’s doing it. As more and more of these doses start to come in, then we can start to pull back. But right now, we need everyone to sign up for this. The more providers we have, the faster we can do this. You’ve seen it in other states where they seem to be getting it out a little faster.”
Like any state-run program, Brown said the process comes with a lot of “red tape.” The approval process is lengthy, then comes training. Once the application has been approved and the vaccines are being administered, the injections have to be logged into separate systems for the ADPH and for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to track. To avoid falling into the same problems ADPH is currently facing, he suggested making specific hires to administer the vaccine and to handle the administrative duties.
Chairman Dean Smith said the county would do whatever it could to support vaccination efforts and asked to talk with Brown further about developing a plan.