“I Miss Precedented Times.” That’s a T-shirt slogan seen recently, and indeed the year 2020 has brought unprecedented challenges due to the coronavirus COVID-19. As December begins and the weather becomes colder, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have increased in Alabama, and it is feared that activities associated with the upcoming holidays may lead to unprecedented COVID-19 surges. Due to ongoing community transmission, it continues to be important for everyone to follow all preventive measures assiduously. COVID-19 threatens all of us, not just those with underlying risk factors or people of advanced age.
In December, people tend to spend more time indoors where the risk of exposure is greater and asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic people may be too close. Friends, family, and associates may be careless and inconsistent in following commonsense prevention measures that have been proven to prevent transmission of this highly contagious virus. This failing can be compounded by stress and anxiety associated with the holiday season, which when coupled with the pandemic may lead to risky behaviors including substance abuse.
Increased travel during the Thanksgiving holidays, despite travel advisories to stay at home, foreshadow serious consequences in the weeks ahead if the public lets its guard down and ignores personal responsibility. Leading up to the holidays, consider ways your plans can be modified to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This may mean hosting remote celebrations and exchanging gifts with family and friends using contactless deliveries. Do not let your guard down, because there is hope.
Despite rising case numbers, there are many reasons to be encouraged. Several treatment modalities are now available, including a newly authorized monoclonal antibody treatment for outpatients which decreases hospital admissions for COVID-19 and the antiviral medication remdesivir that has been found to shorten hospital stays.
With the anticipated emergency use authorization of vaccines produced by several pharmaceutical companies, Alabama is making plans to vaccinate critical healthcare workers and residents of long term care this month, and to continue the vaccine rollout through spring. The goal of the plan is to distribute a widely available COVID-19 vaccine which is safe, effective, and equitably distributed. This vaccine is especially important for vulnerable populations living in rural and low-income urban areas.
Rest assured that Alabama will adhere to COVID-19 vaccine storage and handling requirements. While documentation and regular reporting of vaccine administration will be required, patient privacy will be protected.
Remember that we are in the midst of a serious pandemic, so I urge you to carefully consider your actions and be consistent in maintaining good COVID-19 prevention habits. During this holiday season, care for others, and keep the health and safety of seniors and those with chronic health conditions especially in mind. Enjoy the holidays, and please keep yourself, your family, friends, and others safe for a happy 2021.
Scott Harris, M.D.
State Health Officer