Wilson Wrestles With Ways to Tamp Down COVID-19 in Jefferson County

Dr. Mark E. Wilson, chief medical officer of Jefferson County, in a COVID-19 press conference 3-16-20. (Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson wrestles with how the state’s most populous county can decrease the daily number of COVID-19 cases, which has been steadily rising for the past two weeks.

The county inked a record 343 cases from Wednesday, marking a high point in what has been an upward trend for the county.

This past week, July 3-10, 10,659 people were tested in the county, with 1,417 of them testing positive for COVID-19. That’s an average of 202 new cases per day and a positive test rate of 13.3%, Wilson said. There also were 19 deaths during the week.

The previous week, there were 9,797 individuals in the county tested for the virus, and 1,321 of them tested positive. That is an average of 189 new cases per day and a positive test rate of 13.5%.

The World Health Organization states that the positive rate for COVID-19 testing should remain at 5% percent or lower for at least 14 days. That indicates the area has sufficient testing capacity for the size of its outbreak.

On Friday, Alabama recorded its highest death toll in a single day from the virus — 35. That brings the state’s total deaths from the virus to 1,077.

As of Thursday, the county has had 6,219 cases of the coronavirus and 167 deaths.

“The situation is horrible,” Wilson said.

Wilson has issued a countywide order requiring face coverings be worn until further notice, but he’s not planning at this time to order any closures because of the growing pandemic. If he closed bars in Jefferson County and surrounding counties did not take the same steps, he said he doubts it would do much good. He said similar orders are needed covering larger areas.

Indoor bars were singled out by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Wednesday as a leading cause of the spread of the virus.

“There are not many palatable options,” Wilson said.

“We are banking on the individual doing the right thing,” such as wearing masks, social distancing and hand sanitizing, he said. He called wearing masks a minor inconvenience, but he said if people would take that step it would help ensure businesses can stay open.

And maybe a few changes in attitudes would help, he said. “A lot of people think this isn’t a big deal or that it’s a hoax. We have to have the public buying in or we can’t succeed,” he said.

People who have no personal experience with COVID are hard to convince of the dangers from the pandemic. “I get that, and it is hard to argue with personal experience,” he said, pointing to what he called “the young invincibles and people in their 30s and 40s” as not taking the threat of the virus seriously.

He said public information and education efforts have not worked on those groups, and he hopes the rapid raise in cases now is getting their attention.

Wilson singled out the Eat in the Streets event in Avondale, which allowed people to gather but in the open air, which discourages spread of the virus.