Joint Information Center press conference

Dothan Mayor Mark Saliba addresses the media after removing his face mask as Houston County Commission Chairman Mark Culver, wearing a mask, looks on during a recent Joint Information Center press conference at the Dothan/Houston County EMA office.

Dothan hospital representatives say positive coronavirus cases are beginning to surge again in the Wiregrass as local officials urge the community to wear face coverings and adhere to social distancing recommendations.

After seeing a decline in cases toward the end of April, Southeast Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Charles Harkness said the downward trend was reassuring and it appeared efforts to slow the spread of the virus were working.

Local cases began increasing again at the beginning of May after state restrictions on businesses eased.

“It appears we are heading for a new peak,” Harkness said at a Friday press conference for the Dothan/Houston Joint Information Center.

According to its website, Southeast Health currently has 25 patients hospitalized with the coronavirus.

The origin of local cases has changed. Previously, Southeast Health saw a large number of cases from Georgia, specifically in Early County. Now hospital personnel are seeing an upswing of cases from Alabama residents, mostly from Houston and Geneva counties.

Demographics have not changed significantly, however. African Americans make up 80% of all cases, while 58% are female. The median age is 59.

Harkness and Flowers Hospital Chief Operating Officer Matt Blevins say they are not advocating a return to stay-at-home orders, but are asking businesses, churches, schools, municipalities, and counties to adhere to recommendations by public health officials and take steps to operate safely.

As of 5 p.m. Thursday, the Wiregrass had 995 confirmed cases with 10,393 tests performed since testing began in March, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Coffee leads all Wiregrass counties with 219 confirmed cases. Other positive test results include: Houston County (185); Pike County (175); Barbour County (131); Dale County (97); Covington County (77); Henry County (71); and Geneva County (40).

Statewide, ADPH reports 16,310 confirmed cases, including 5,225 in the last 14 days, and 200,481 tests performed. There have been 590 COVID-19-related deaths, and 9,335 presumed recoveries from those who had the virus.

Houston County Chairman Mark Culver and Dothan City Mayor Mark Saliba are warning citizens against complacency amid the ongoing health threat.

“We’ve got to take the right actions to make sure this spread and this increase does not continue,” Culver said. “We’ve got to wear masks. We’ve got to maintain social distancing. This disease is still among us... Do the right thing.”

Saliba said they understand the frustrations to get the economy rolling and to feel safe in the community.

“We want to do the best, proportionate response to what’s going on. Please consider that this is serious,” Saliba said. “It’s not just protecting yourself, but it’s protecting those that are the most vulnerable in our city and our county.”

Harkness added that wearing a mask is the best protection against contracting the virus, according to recent data, second to maintaining a six-foot distance from other individuals.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that children under 2, those with breathing difficulties, and those that are unable to remove face coverings do not need to wear masks for their personal safety.

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