Officials plead with residents to follow health guidelines as COVID numbers surge

Winston County Commission Chairman Roger Hayes, left, and Double Springs Mayor Elmo Robinson show the large banners Dr. Jerry Harrison has had made to place at areas around Winston County where larger crowds are expected to congregate to help remind people of what they can do to help protect themselves from COVID-19.

WINSTON COUNTY  -  As Governor Kay Ivey extended the state’s Safer-at-Home order last week, medical officials in Winston County confirmed a surge in COVID-19 cases locally,  placing the county in an extremely high risk category when it comes to the virus.
Dr. Jerry Harrison, of Jerry Harrison Family Practice in Haleyville, noted the surge he is seeing is happening because people are not taking the state’s health orders seriously, going into public without facial coverings and not avoiding larger gatherings of people.
“Winston County has a much bigger COVID problem than I believe people realize,” Harrison pointed out.
“Our hospital has been full for about two weeks because of COVID patients,” Harrison stressed, referring to Lakeland Community Hospital in Haleyville.
Hendrix Health Care in Double Springs has over 20 patients that currently have the virus, Harrison further pointed out. Harrison also said that several other people in the community have confirmed cases of COVID-19.
In fact, he has  seen or had affiliation with approximately 10 patients a week outside of the hospitals and nursing homes who he suspects may have COVID-19.  He immediately sends them to be tested at Lakeland. Younger people may contract COVID-19 and never know they have it, Harrison said.
While the official death toll in Winston County from the virus stood at three as of press time, Monday, July 6, Harrison believes that number is higher.
“I have personally tested about 10 people who have passed away from this disease or its complications.  It’s not just somewhere else.  It’s here,”  Harrion said.
Due to this major surge in Winston County, people who go out in public for any reason are being urged to wear facial coverings, health officials emphasized.
“The mask helps protect people from you, but it also helps you,” Harrison said. “It helps much more if you  have it to keep you from spreading it, but it also decreases the risk a little bit of you catching it
from somebody else.”
Harrison also urges people to wash their hands frequently and socially distance themselves from others at least six feet or more.
“Those things work,” he said.
Generally, people in Winston County are ignoring warnings and recommendations from state health officials, as well as the Centers for Disease Control, not wearing masks when they go out in public, officials stressed.
In fact, Harrison saw a photograph taken inside a local store where the almost 40 customers inside were not wearing masks.  Only the employees were wearing them.
“We have to take this seriously,” he said. “While it is not as bad of a disease in younger people, it certainly is as you get older or you have other things wrong with you.”
Harrison is also stressing people need to keep their hands sanitized and not  touch their faces.
“Protect others then protect yourself,” he said. “If we do this, I believe the infectivity and the number of cases will start going down. Once it starts going down, and gets below a threshold, then the disease will do like it has done in some other countries, where it has really decreased a lot.”
Harrison believes the state was too generous in reopening after being shut down and this has contributed to the rapid uptick of COVID-19.
“We’ve got to be careful,” he pointed out. “This is the biggest spike we have from just generalized community spread.”
When extending the Safer-at-Home order during a press conference June 30, Ivey   noted COVID-19 requires all people to practice social distancing, good personal hygiene and wear facemasks.
“The order also allowed our hospitals to prepare and hopefully not become overwhelmed,” Ivey stated. “Even now, they are not overwhelmed.”
Harrison disagreed with Ivey’s statement about hospitals.
“I don’t know about her hospital, but my hospital is,” Harrison said. “She needs to come to Haleyville and see that our nurses are stressed. We can’t take any more patients because our nurses are so overwhelmed and overworked.
“I had a notification this morning that we had no beds available,” Harrison said last week. “It’s been that way for several days.”
Patient rates are so high that Harrison had to refer a patient to a hospital south of Birmingham about a week ago because that was the only hospital he could find to take the patient, he said.


See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.
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