More Than 15% of COVID-19 Tests in Jefferson County are Positive

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson (Eli Cohen , WBHM)

This past week, 1,700 new individuals per day have been tested for the coronavirus in Jefferson County, with an average of 278 people a day testing positive and two a day dying. Those numbers give the county a positivity rate that tops 15%, the highest of any one week so far during the pandemic, county Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson said in a briefing Tuesday.

Hospitals in Jefferson County are caring for 275 patients with the virus; 110 of those are in intensive care units and 52 on ventilators, Wilson said.

UAB Hospital has 105 of the patients, said Dr. Sarah Nafziger, co-chair of UAB’s Emergency Management Committee.

Wilson said the high positivity rate indicates there isn’t enough testing going on in the county.

His remarks came during an update on the virus given in a press conference Tuesday by the Jefferson County Unified Command.

“We are in a worse place than we were in April,” Wilson said. “COVID is putting a strain on our hospitals, our labs are reaching capacity, contact tracers and health care workers are feeling the strain, and many first responders have been taken out of service. The whole system is under a strain.”

“We need everyone to do their part to turn this around. There is a preponderance of young people ages 20 to 45 with the virus,” he added. “And younger people are spreading the disease.”

Wilson said the increase in the number of cases is not connected to one particular venue or place. He said part of the increase can be blamed on private gatherings such as weddings and parties. He urged people to take precautions, such as wearing masks, social distancing and washing hands.

Another problem now is the wait time for COVID-19 test results. While processing the tests had been taking between 24 and 48 hours, it now takes longer than four to five days to get a result. “And the longer it takes, the less useful the test result is,” Wilson said.

He urged people who have been tested but have not received results to self-quarantine. People should self-isolate if they have symptoms of the virus but also if they have been exposed to someone known to be positive with the virus and have been within six feet of them for 15 minutes or more, he said.

Nafziger first stressed that UAB emergency departments are open for patients with both COVID and non-COVID-related illnesses.

“We have heard that there are people out there who are foregoing emergency care when they need it. If you are having a medical emergency, go to the emergency, and I think that applies to all the hospitals in town,” she said.

UAB has increased space to treat COVID patients by shifting the emergency department waiting room elsewhere and converting that space to be used for treating COVID patients who do not require intensive care, Nafziger said.

She said the hospital has had shortages in patient beds and staff, “But we continually manage every day.”