Alabama has started to reopen, but does that mean the risk of contracting COVID-19 has been eliminated?

The short answer is no, but Dr. Andrew Hodges, of Scottsboro, said life must go on.

As of Tuesday morning, there were 12,333 confirmed cases of the virus in the state, out of 157,566 tests. In Jackson County, there have been 63 confirmed cases.

“The virus is still around, but yes, it’s a good idea to reopen,” said Hodges. “I understand in the beginning there was panic as to this virus’ arrival, but now, almost two months later, we have a lot more data.”

Dr. Suzanne Judd, a professor in the Department of Biostatistics at UAB, said COVID-19 can be spread by people who are not feeling sick.

“Because we’ve only tested about 2.7% of Alabamians, there are probably far more cases that we don’t know about,” said Judd. “Approximately how many? Well, studies conducted in Florida, New York and California suggest that the actual number of cases is probably six times the number of documented cases.”

Hodges said communities can be compared.

“For example, the 2009-2010 and the 2017-2018 influenza seasons, so far, were much worse for our community than COVID-19,” said Hodges. “The opposite is true for New York City.”

Doctors say there are many strategies that can help a person stay healthy as the state reopens and COVID-19 still circulates.

“There are precautions to take,” said Hodges. “Be smart about it and use common sense.”

Precautions

• Wash your hands before you eat, wipe your eyes, blow your nose, bite your nails — basically wash your hands before you touch your face.

• Do not touch your face. When you leave home, keep your hands off your face.

• Try to maintain at least six feet of distance between yourself and others where possible. Respect others’ space so that, if they or you do accidentally sneeze or cough, there will be less risk of spreading the virus.

• Wear a mask while in public. It is important for you to wear a mask at all times in case you are a silent carrier. Silent carriers are people who have the virus that causes COVID-19, but do not know they are sick. Because you do not know who is sick, you have to assume everyone is sick, and live life accordingly.

• If you are sick, stay home. Even if you think it is just a cold, it could be COVID-19 because some of the symptoms are the same. Work with your employer to develop a plan so that you do not have to come into your workplace. If that is not possible, be sure you wear a face mask whenever you are feeling unwell.

• If you have been contacted by a health department official saying someone near you recently had COVID-19, stay home for 14 days. If it is not possible to stay home for 14 days, be sure to wear a face mask when you go out and pay attention to how you feel over the next 14 days.

Face masks

Hodges said he believes masks are controversial.

“There is not concrete data that masks do any good in terms of general public use, unless you have symptoms,” said Hodges. “Overwhelmingly, the masks I’m seeing in public are not adequate for protection against the virus.”

Hodges said most people he has seen are actually touching their faces more.

“I believe the ‘wear a mask in public’ rule has morphed from a suggestion to hard guideline because it’s of little inconvenience and it might help protect you from another carrier or infected person,” he said. “If you are keeping your distance, though, the mask is of virtually no use. As an illustration, there is a large difference between shopping at Home Depot in Scottsboro, Alabama and riding the subway in Manhattan. That said, if you feel more comfortable wearing one, go for it.”

Seeing family and friends

Dr. Bertha Hidalgo, an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at UAB, said it’s best not to see family or friends who fall into high risk categories for COVID-19.

“We recognize that people are eager to see their friends and family,” said Hidalgo. “Our infection and death counts have not decreased, which means that our risk for infection and infecting others remains as high as it was before stay-at-home orders went into effect. If you have family members who are considered high risk, it is very important to continue physical distancing.

People with higher risk for severe COVID-19 infections are those who have:

• Asthma

• Chronic lung disease

• Diabetes

• Serious heart conditions

• Kidney disease and on dialysis

• Severe obesity

• People age 65 years old and older

• People in nursing homes or long-term facilities

• Compromised immune systems

• Liver disease

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