Harris: Business hot spot leads to Walker virus spike

Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 5/29/20

Dr. Scott Harris, Alabama's state health officer, said Thursday that the increase of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Walker County is due not to testing but to one business being a hotspot - although he said testing in the county is meeting state goals. 

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Harris: Business hot spot leads to Walker virus spike


Dr. Scott Harris, Alabama's state health officer, said Thursday that the increase of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Walker County is due not to testing but to one business being a hotspot - although he said testing in the county is meeting state goals. 

Harris participated in a Facebook Live question-and-answer session on the Facebook page of U.S Sen. Doug Jones that morning. 

Walker County increased from 100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on May 6 to 200 cases on May 25, a span of 19 days. Three days later on Thursday afternoon, the county had 287 confirmed cases, with one death. 

A total of 3,047 were tested in Walker County as of Thursday afternoon. 

The state totals of Thursday afternoon included 590 deaths, 16,181 confirmed cases, 1,755 hospitalizations and 200,481 total tested. In the past 14 days, Alabama had seen 5,095 cases and 70,284 tested. More than 9,300 people were presumed recovered in the state. 

The first question of the event came from the Daily Mountain Eagle, noting the local case increases and a perception among many in the county that it is due to an increase in testing.   

"The (case) increases in Walker County are not attributable to an increase in testing," Harris said. "It is true we've seen some increased amounts of testing. We'e actually worked very hard to increase the availability of testing in that community. But we also know of a particular hotspot that has occurred there in association with a business in Walker County. There are a number of cases associated with that." 

He said the Health Department has been involved with the business and "reaching out to the community that has been affected by that. So there is absolutely an increase in the rate of cases. We know we can calculate that. It has to do with the percent of tests that we do that are positive, so even though some weeks we do more tests and some weeks we do less tests, we see the actual percent of the tests that are positive are higher in Walker County. 

"Whatever the number of tests we are doing, the number of positives we find is going up there," he said. 

Harris said "very good testing" has been going on in Walker County over the past few weeks. 

"Our goal is to try to get somewhere around 2 percent per month of the overall population tested," he said. "Walker County is one of several sites where we are easily meeting that goal. We're closer to 3 percent per month in Walker County, so testing would not account for that, but in fact it is a business hot spot we have been working on." 

Harris also noted Tuscaloosa County was also seeing a spike in cases, due to a hotspot at a health facility there. That county had 639 confirmed cases Thursday afternoon, 9,316 tested and 13 deaths. 

Other surrounding confirmed case figures included Marion County, 117 confirmed cases; Jefferson County, 1,686 cases, Fayette County, 13 cases; Cullman County, 91 cases; Blount County, 51 cases; and Winston County, 81 cases. 

Jasper Mayor David O'Mary said Thursday afternoon he had been in a meeting on the situation.

"I think it would be improper for me to disclose that business. I don't know that the business has done anything wrong," he said. "As you look around the country, you see coronavirus hotspots in certain lines of business. You can draw your own conclusions from that.

"In my opinion, the responsibility for education, for doing those things that can push those numbers back down, it seems to me that falls in the hands of the state Health Department. Certainly, we as a municipal government have no authority to do such." 

O'Mary said he has had connections with the business for a long time at different levels, including the corporate level, and their procedures, how they manage personnel, and their precautionary procedures.

"I have to say it is quite impressive. It is extensive," he said, saying he has not seen anything questionable. He went on to say the company has structure and is managed from the corporate level, and one would have trouble critiquing what the company is doing. 

"All they do starts with the time clock checking in and ends with the time clock checking out. You can't step out into the personal lives of those folks. Is that driving what is going on? I don't know. What I've seen, you would have a difficult time saying this business is not doing what they need to do to try to control the growth of coronavirus cases." 

All involved in the situation seem to be doing all they can, he said.

As for how he feels businesses in general are handling the virus around the city, O'Mary said he is pleased. "As I drive across this city and county, not everybody is abiding by the speeding rules. Not everyone is abiding on not texting while you drive, and it goes on," he said. 

"You have a certain percentage, I don't care what rule you have, that is not going to comply," he said. "It is hard to manage that."

O'Mary said he has been to local big box stores and seen people wearing masks and observing social distancing. He has seen other areas where they have not observed the rules. 

"To think we can get that perfect and everybody abide by the rules, it is not going to happen. But I would have a hard time saying the vast majority of our people are not taking the precautionary measures we should be taking to flatten this curve," he said.