Alabama health officials are raising serious concerns about the potential spread of COVID-19 as families gather this holiday season and students return from college.
Healthcare workers are fighting an uphill battle to save lives as coronavirus case numbers continue to spike and hospitalizations trend toward record numbers.
The timing could soon make things worse, health officials say, as families gather for the holidays and college students return home.
"Many colleges are ending earlier. They're ending at Thanksgiving, and kids aren't going back until next year. Some of them are going to be infected and bring COVID back and not even be aware of it," said Dr. Donald Williamson, Executive Director of the Alabama Hospital Association.
It's a situation that could threaten those most at risk at a time when coming together is second nature.
Marjorie Ard, a grandmother who lives in Robertsdale, said she's very concerned about the spread from younger residents.
"If they get the virus, they could spread it. They may live through it, and they probably will. But their grandparents may not, or their nextdoor neighbor may not," Ard said.
Sylvia Maddingly said she and her family members will be doing what they can to protect themselves.
"I have a number of children that will be coming from different locations for thanksgiving, but we'll probably all be wearing masks," said Maddingly.
Dr. Karen Landers, Assistant State Health Officer, said wearing masks is needed, but it may not be enough, especially if the student is asymptomatic.
"I don't think it's a bad idea for the student to get tested for COVID prior to leaving campus, if that opportunity is available," Dr. Landers said.
Dr. Landers said if possible, students should drive home alone. If commercial travel is necessary, it's best to quarantine and get tested again on arrival.
"The incubation period is 2 to 14 days, so that test is a snapshot in time. Be very, very cautious about your contact with the more vulnerable population," said Dr. Landers.
Dr. Landers also suggests spending time with family outside, and to wear a mask if close to one another.
If you feel like you're getting sick, Dr. Landers said you shouldn't travel at all.