On Tuesday morning Jackson County residents woke to snow on the ground and the cold reality that a second wave of COVID-19, which had been building for all of November, had reached the county.
New cases in Jackson County spiked to a new high on Nov. 23, the day before Thanksgiving, and daily cases numbers increased beyond those previously scene creating a new daily case high — which was then topped again on Dec. 1.
Six percent of Jackson County's population has had COVID-19 since March, higher than even densely packed New York City which shut school's down after 3% of the City's population was infected.
On Nov. 23 alone, the county added 96 new cases, more than double the previous single day high of 46 cases on Aug. 12.
Test positivity rates also spiked during the holiday. Now fewer than one out of every seven tests return positive for SARS-CoV-2, the novel Coronavirus that causes COVID-19, researchers suggest that an ideal test positivity rate is below one out of every 10.
Jackson County is now one of nine counties in Alabama that have a higher 40% test positivity rating. This means that it is likely that there a many unidentified and untested cases of COVID-19 in Jackson County and public health officials lack the data needed to effectively track or trace the outbreak of COVID-19 in Jackson County.
To some degree, public health officials expected to see case numbers increase in winter, and place greater strain on hospitals.
Since Nov. 1, Jackson County has added close to 1,000 cases — more than 400 of which were added in the last 10 days.
The county is averaging an additional 44 cases a day and 109 tests per day; however, the county's school systems are averaging significantly fewer cases.
According to Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo of UAB in a press conference held to address the rise of case’s and UAB the UAB Medical System’s ability to combat Coronavirus, these increased case numbers are not attributable to a Thanksgiving surge.
That surge will come in the next 2–3 weeks.
The strain placed on local health systems has also increased as the state announced a record high for COVID-19 hospitalizations in Alabama, with UAB warning that these numbers are likely to lead to worse emergency care in Alabama.
As hospitals reach their maximum capacity, many will have to put off vital non-emergency procedures, and other important medical care as hospitals struggle to deal with added precautions associated with COVID-19 patients.
During the week prior to the Thanksgiving break, Scottsboro City Schools added only eight cases and across all of the schools in the Jackson County School System there were only 30 cases.
Numerous sports teams in the county have suspended play and practice due to potential exposure to the virus and calling into question the safety of students participating in athletics programs.
According to Reyes, typically the school system has average 35 exposure notices, but during the 12 days students have been out for e-learning and Thanksgiving holiday, 35 positive tests students and 83 exposures to the virus — none of which occurred while school was in session. grounds.
Reyes added that this potentially shows that students are less apt to be exposed to the coronavirus while attending in person school.
"When students are at school, they are at a place that is constantly, constantly sanitized and disinfected, they're in an environment where the overwhelming majority of people that they interact with on a daily basis are wearing a mask," said Reyes about precautions being taken by the school system, and added that "according to the numbers we have, students are safer being in school."
Reyes said that because of this, regardless of the case numbers outside the schools, he feels that a closure is not necessary.
"We have to be a partner with the community with this situation," said Reyes. "If we just randomly — without just cause — shut our schools down."
He predicted a ripple effect if schools closed without being concerned with the impact on the community around them.
A vaccine isn't likely to be available for the majority of Jackson County citizens until well into the new year.
Marshall and DeKalb counties have seen equally high case rates, but despite these county's rural nature they have higher rates than Jefferson and Madison Counties, that house two of the state’s largest urban centers with Birmingham and Huntsville respectively.