COVID hospitalizations are up. What to do now to keep the people you love safe + help hospital staff

Keep your Thanksgiving meal safe +  avoid COVID hospitalizations in Birmingham, AL
Are you wondering how to stay safe this Thanksgiving? We are too. Photo via Unsplash

Sick of COVID yet? Yeah, us, too, and pretty much the whole rest of the world. Jefferson County’s currently in the “very high risk category” and as Thanksgiving approaches, lots of people (including college students) will be getting together to eat, drink and potentially spread the virus. We reached out to three hospitals in the Birmingham area, where COVID cases have been rising, to find out what to do. Keep reading for all the details.

Jefferson County, Alabama: “VERY HIGH RISK” + COVID hospitalizations are increasing

COVID risk categories   hospitalizations in Birmingham, Alabama are up
The big takeaway? VERY HIGH risk. Screenshot via the Jefferson County Unified Command’s Situation Report from 11/2/20

Suzanne Judd, Ph.D., a professor at UAB’s School of Public Health, said that UAB is holding steady at 70 COVID-positive patients currently. Across the state, though, the hospitalization numbers have been steadily rising and have been above 1000 a couple of days in the past week. 

This is similar to where we were this summer, according to Judd, who pointed out that we’re going into the toughest part of flu season. It’s important for all of us to do what we can to support doctors and nurses so they have the capacity to deal with the double-whammy of flu and COVID. 

Cases are headed back toward highs we haven’t seen since July

Weekly view of COVID cases  - hospitalizations in Birmingham, Alabama are up
From these, you can get a weekly snapshot of pandemic numbers since the pandemic started. Screenshot via Jefferson County Department of Public Health on 11/2/20

Why, you ask? Judd said there are a few factors, including some that haven’t shown actual COVID impacts yet but are likely to over the coming weeks: 

  • Colleges starting back
  • K-12 schools coming back together
  • Homecoming
  • Halloween

“There’s a chance COVID will increase based on what we’ve seen in the last two weeks,” Judd said. “We’re watching how the increase in cases sets us up for the rest of the year. The next two weeks really matter to how 2020 ends and how 2021 begins.”

More specifically, Judd explained how “the cases spreading now could be taken home at Thanksgiving when people get together with family and friends.”

How to avoid taking home or offering a side of virus this Thanksgiving

matryoshka dolls - make sure you don't add to COVID hospitals' burden this holiday season in Birmingham, Alabama
So many people gathering together, so many opportunities for the virus to spread. Photo via Unsplash

So what’s the problem with Thanksgiving? You’re gathered together inside with friends and family, around a table, all ready to share a meal and a good time. 

But wait. Judd highlighted some of the risks involved in the holiday: 

You’re gathered. Inside. With other people, which might include people in vulnerable groups. Some of your party might be carrying COVID without realizing it. You’re eating and drinking. You’re socializing and laughing, maybe even singing. 

Unfortunately, any or all of these things could help lead to substantial COVID transmission over the holiday.

Right after we get through Thanksgiving, we do it all again at Christmas and New Year’s

people making a toast at Christmas
Cheers. Photo via Unsplash

You know the drill. Food. Hugs. Carols. Services. Loved ones making memories. 

Except this year there’s potentially an unwanted guest at the table or in the room. 

So what can you do to enjoy the holidays safely?

Here’s what Judd recommended:

  • Limit indoor gatherings to less than 10 people.
  • Speak to guests beforehand about wearing masks except when eating or drinking.
  • Eat outdoors if you can.
  • If you eat indoors, keep the windows open. 
  • Keep people spaced apart—six feet is ideal.
  • Eat in shifts—half the group eats, then the other half eats. 
  • Consider having a non-food Thanksgiving this year.

If you’ve been in any high-risk settings…Dr. Judd’s holiday safety tips

The Magic City Classic
Remember when football games like The Magic City Classic happened at full capacity? Photo via Pat Byington for Bham Now

Know that any situation where there are more than 10-ish people raising their voices, yelling or singing can be high-risk: 

  • Restaurants
  • Bars
  • Religious services

Judd pointed out that someone who might be COVID-positive could spread more of the virus than they would in a quieter setting. 

  • For students: 
    • Please be very careful about your behavior in the 10 days before you go home. 
    • Remember that you might be coming into contact with people in high-risk situations—wear a mask.
  • Think of all the high-risk settings you may be in and then quarantine for 10-14 days before spending time with family members who are at risk of COVID complications.
  • Ask yourself the hard questions about whether or not it’s right for your family to see grandparents.
  • Same with whether or not it makes sense to have K-12 kids go to Thanksgiving since they’ll be at school until right before the holidays. 

Dr. Judd shared that if she wears her mask, perhaps it helps other people wear theirs. She encouraged everyone to “think about what you’re doing and how your behavior can help keep levels of the virus down. A positive attitude can interest others in trying out healthy behaviors, too.”

Safety tips from Brookwood Baptist

Brookwood Baptist is one of the hospitals in Birmingham, Alabama that is seeing COVID patients
Routine visits are so important. Photo via Matthew Niblett for Bham Now

“We encourage our community not to delay care for new or chronic conditions requiring medical attention, which can lead to life-threatening illnesses, and we have taken the appropriate steps and implemented protocols to continue to provide safe care.  

It is important to continue to adhere to safe personal practices, masking, social distancing and frequent hand washing, as well as to receive a seasonal flu shot.”

Inside Pediatrics Podcast’s tips for parents and caregivers from Children’s of Alabama

Childrens of Alabama is one of the hospitals in Birmingham, Alabama that is treating pediatric COVID patients
Children’s of Alabama has such a gorgeous new building, not to mention lots of good knowledge for all of us right now. Photo via Pat Byington for Bham Now

Pediatrician Dr. Gigi Youngblood offers tips for parents and caregivers in this podcast on COVID and kids in school

  • Be diligent about checking symptoms—many COVID symptoms can easily be mistaken for allergies. Call your doctor for an evaluation, especially for loss of taste or smell and shortness of breath.
  • Exposure = less than six feet for more than fifteen minutes. If your child has been exposed, they’ll need to quarantine for a full 14 days. You can’t test out of quarantine.
  • If your child is sent home from school with mild symptoms that you wouldn’t worry about in a normal year, call your pediatrician, who will decide on the best mode of testing.
  • Be aware that Halloween, Thanksgiving, holiday gatherings and flu season mean lots of opportunities for exposure.
  • Get a flu vaccine or the flu mist. Every year, children in the state of Alabama die from the flu, and doctors have no idea what co-infection will look like.
  • Continue to stay diligent with the usual: social distancing, masks, frequent hand washing and santizer.
  • Approach holiday gatherings with pandemic precautions and social distancing in mind. If you even have mild symptoms, don’t go to holiday gatherings. If you feel a little sick, get a test before interacting with family.

Find more tips from Childrens here. Alabama Department of Public Health’s website has excellent resources, as does the Jefferson County Department of Health.

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