Coffee County EMA Director James Brown gave a COVID-19 update to the Coffee County Commission on Jan. 11 and said that things in the area and state look very bleak.
Brown said that over the last 14 days, Coffee County has seen 757 new cases with five new deaths.
“I really take this personal. I feel like I have failed in convincing people is real,” a frustrated Brown said. “I’ve failed to convince people to wear their masks, to social distance and to wash your hands. Because of my failure we had 757 new cases in the last 14 days. That is unbelievable.”
Brown emphasized that Coffee County has just 99 hospital beds and at the current rate 10 percent of those in the county that test positive for the virus end up in the hospital.
“At that rate, that means in the next 2-3 weeks we will need 76 more beds in a hospital that is already full or near full,” Brown emphasized. “The numbers fluctuate every day and the hospital is trying to release as many people as they can to make room, but our hospital workers are overtasked right now; it’s going to get worse.”
Brown said that ICU beds across the state are at 96 percent capacity and some places are well over 100 percent.
Brown said that he believes the key to slowing the spread of the virus lies with the COVID-19 vaccine, which has seen a very slow rollout to begin things.
“We need people to take this seriously. I know the rollout has not been good,” Brown said. “We here at the EMA are not in charge of that but we are leaning forward in trying to help (the Alabama Department of Public Health) get these vaccines out. We need to get as many providers as we can to distribute the vaccines.”
Brown said that ADPH alone cannot distribute the number of vaccines need across the state. This past weekend the ADPH rolled out a hotline for people over the age of 75 and first responders to make appointments to receive the vaccine. Over the first 24 hours of that hotline going live, it received more than 1 million calls.
“I can’t tell you how many were answered but I can tell you that it was a very (small) portion of those calls,” Brown said. “We have to come together as a group to try and help ADPH out and one of the things we’re doing is seeking help from local municipalities to become providers and perhaps get additional vaccines through (ADPH) and get the vaccine out through the (municipalities).”
Brown said that the state has opened up an application process for doctor’s offices, businesses and municipalities to get certified and become a vaccination location. Brown said that he is imploring any businesses, clinics or doctor’s offices that can help to do so, but is also suggesting that local municipalities get in on it.
E-911 Chairman Dean Blair said that Enterprise Rescue has been overtaxed during this pandemic, as well. Because of the level capacity in hospitals, ambulances are being required to transfer patients further and further away.
“Enterprise Rescue is doing a phenomenal job covering Coffee County but a lot of times these transfers are not from Enterprise to Dothan now, they’re going to Tallahassee (Fla.) or Pensacola (Fla.) or Birmingham, which is COVID-related,” Blair said. “That’s taking a crew and ambulance away sometimes eight hours at a time. Over a 72-hour period there were over 100 calls over there. Y’all, that is unreal.”
A number of commissioners asked Brown if Coffee County itself could apply to become one of these vaccination locations. Brown said that it could but that the county could also offer support to another local municipality that applies, as well.
Commissioner Jimmy Jones said that he spoke with Medical Center Enterprise’s CEO and with Enterprise Mayor William Cooper over the weekend and said that both expressed support in helping the county in any way possible.
Commission Chairman Dean Smith said that the commission would come together at its next work session to devise a plan moving forward, as well.
Until then, Brown emphasized once again that residents must take COVID-19 seriously.
“I do take this personally. I don’t care what you call it or even if you don’t think COVID exists,” Brown said. “Something is out there that is sending people to the hospital and we need to do something now.”