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Health officials advise against large Thanksgiving gatherings, ‘We’re not going to get a do-over on this’

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – State health officials on Monday urged Alabamians to take extreme cautions during this week’s Thanksgiving holiday and Black Friday events as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

“If we want to live to see another Thanksgiving, and I do, then that may mean stepping back this Thanksgiving and limiting the number of people and some of the things we do,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mary McIntyre said during a press conference. “Now is not the time to do Black Friday shopping,”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended against family gatherings that involve people from different households, especially involving high-risk individuals and that staying home is the best way to protect individuals and loved ones.

“We’re not going to get a do-over on this,” State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said.

Alabama had 1,574 new COVID-19 cases reported on Monday and 3,459 Alabamians have died from the virus.

Alabama hospitals were now seeing more than 1,500 COVID-19 patients on any given day, which is the highest numbers that state has seen since July when hospitals were reaching maximum capacity.

About 1.5% of Alabama’s cases have resulted in death, which Harris said may not sound like a lot but is about 15 times higher than the state’s influenza death rate.

If families do decide to gather, the CDC is recommending that all participants wear face masks, stay at least 6 feet away from those they don’t live with, wash hands frequently, bring their own food and utensils to eat off of and consider hosting outside gatherings or virtual meetings.

Harris said he will not be traveling to a family member’s house this Thanksgiving and will be staying home with his wife.

COVID-19 Vaccine in Alabama

Harris also gave an update on the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plans and said once an emergency use authorization is approved for the first vaccine product, ADPH will begin distributing the vaccine immediately.

Health care workers, first responders and those who are most at-risk of serious illness will be part of the first groups able to receive the vaccine since the first batch is expected to be no more than 112,000 doses, Harris said.

Harris said they are planning on having resources ready to receive and store the vaccine by Dec. 7 but it will likely be mid-December before the first shipment of vaccine doses arrives in Alabama.

The vaccine from drug maker Pfizer is on track to be the first vaccine approved in the U.S. and requires being kept at extremely cold temperatures.

Harris said he has reached out to health care facilities across the state to check their ability to store the Pfizer vaccine and said a majority of hospitals do have freezer capabilities. He also said it will be a challenge to reach some rural areas or smaller hospitals that don’t have those freezer abilities but the state is currently working on a plan for how to reach them.

As other vaccine products are approved by the FDA, Alabama can expect more shipments that will likely not require as stringent storing requirements, Harris said.

Harris explained that pregnant women and children will likely be advised not to take the first three vaccine products that are on their way to being approved since those groups were not included in the vaccine trials.

Ultimately the choice of which vaccine product to take should be made in consultation with health care providers, Harris said.

The vaccine is free to all Alabamians and no one will be turned away because of an inability to pay.

As of now, Harris could not say how long it will take to get enough Alabamians vaccinated in order to see new case numbers decrease but said the focus right now is protecting vulnerable populations.

“We want to interrupt disease transmission so we don’t see new cases but more explicitly, we want to make sure that vulnerable people are protected,” Harris said.

Harris again stressed the need for Alabamians to take personal responsibility in protecting others this week and said the actions taken this Thanksgiving will determine the number of December cases.

“I would say we are really scared about what December is going to look like based on what we’re seeing right now, but it’s not inevitable,” Harris said. “It doesn’t have to continue on this upswing. And now is the time to make a difference and now is the time to take responsibility. Just stay home. Stay away from others who are vulnerable.”

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