Rise in coronavirus cases brings new concerns in Alabama

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - William Boyd was at a funeral on Saturday morning for a relative who had died after becoming infected with the new corona virus when he received the call with the news. His brother had also died of COVID-19.
"The virus is real. It is real. If you don't know it's real, you can go to the cemetery with me, ”said Boyd, owner of a Montgomery car park.
Alabama and much of the deep south are experiencing an increase in coronavirus cases as some stop following virus warnings and alert health officials and people who have lost loved ones due to COVID-19. In the past two weeks, Alabama has had the second highest number of new cases per capita in the nation. South Carolina finished fourth. Louisiana and Mississippi were also in the top 10.
“We are very concerned about these numbers. We know if they go on we will see more hospital stays and more deaths, ”said Scott Harris, Alabama state health official.
As of Saturday, Alabama had more than 29,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with more than a quarter of cases reported in the past two weeks.
The combination of pre-existing health conditions and limited access to health care in the region, as well as public skepticism about the health authorities' advice on the disease, make it difficult to deal with the virus.
Dr. Selwyn Vickers, Dean of the UAB School of Medicine, said the South has a high rate of diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, and high blood pressure - all diseases that put people with COVID-19 at risk of worse results.
But Vickers said human behavior is the most difficult part of fighting the disease.
“When you open the doors and look at the beaches, you look at the restaurants and cities that don't make masks, or people who don't. I would say our behavior is the biggest challenge for us, "said Vickers.
Vickers said people who do not wear a mask for their own protection should "think about worrying about infecting someone else".
MP Merika Coleman wants people to heed the warnings.
Her extended family had come to Alabama for a funeral from across the country in March - at a time when the state had few cases of coronaviruses - and used the time together to remember, laugh, and cry. Over the following weeks and months, 11 family members tested positive for COVID-19 and five, including three who attended the meetings, died of the disease.
“Our family will not be the same. ... I don't want it to be someone else. I don't want anyone else to feel the way I feel. I don't want anyone else to go through what my family has been through, ”said Coleman.
Coleman said she couldn't believe the large crowd that she saw from social media images of the beach and even in her own neighborhood on Memorial Day.
"What bothers me at the moment is that people work as if COVID had been canceled, as if it were no longer there," she said.
Kyra Porter, who has lost three members of her family in Eastern Alabama to COVID-19, has the same concerns.
Her father, sister and cousin died within a week of spring. They were buried the same day.
Porter said her family was well-prepared for the risks of the coronavirus, took precautions, and prayed for the people of China. The virus found it anyway.
When her father and sister went to the hospital, they were immediately isolated and the family never spoke to them again. They didn't even have the opportunity to say goodbye over the phone.
"This is the most painful part," said Porter. "We never had the opportunity to hold her hand, say goodbye, and say we love her."
In May Alabama allowed shops and restaurants to open. Harris said he believed that people who understandably asked to return to normal life had not taken enough precautions. He said the big boom in some cases came a few weeks after Memorial Day gatherings, and wearing masks still seemed to be a hit or miss.
"We still get communication from the public every day from people who think we made a joke for a shameful purpose," said Harris.
Dr. Don Williamson, a former state health official who now heads the Alabama Hospital Association, says hospitals are currently managed, but the trends are worrying.
"This is the first day I'm going to say these words: I'm worried now," Williamson said. "I am concerned that the virus is now before us and that we as individuals are not doing enough to contain it."
Williamson said only about 16% of all beds in the intensive care unit are empty, and in some areas like Montgomery, "we essentially don't have any."
The new corona virus has disproportionately affected people with skin color like the families of Porter and Coleman. African Americans make up 24% of the Alabama population, but have caused 44% of the state's COVID-19 deaths.
Vickers said several factors contributed to the difference, including pre-existing conditions, access to primary health care, housing density, and front-line jobs that do not allow people to work from home.
Alabama's capital, Montgomery, has become a hotspot for community broadcasting, prompting the mayor to issue an executive ordinance that requires face masks in public. The measure failed in a tie before the Montgomery City Council because some members expressed concerns about violations of personal freedoms.
Porter and Coleman said people shouldn't think it can't happen to them.
"It hit almost half of our family and took out three of them," said Porter.
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Follow AP pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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