Limestone County has been dropped from "very high risk" to "high risk" of spreading COVID-19 by the Alabama Department of Public Health, but it could be right back in the red zone next week.

While most of Alabama avoided a spike in new cases following Labor Day Weekend, Limestone County was one of a small handful that did report a spike. In the weeks since, Limestone County has overall trended downward, even as it set new records for itself in daily case numbers and local hospitalizations.

Forty new cases were reported Sunday, beating out the previous one-day case record of 38, which was set July 8. All told, the county has seen 2,330 confirmed or probable cases since March, including 21 confirmed deaths, with at least 470 cases being reported between Sept. 8 and Monday.

At Athens-Limestone Hospital, a previous peak of 15 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 was also passed. Hospital spokesperson Felicia Lambert said Tuesday that their new peak is 19, and they had a spike to 18 patients over the weekend, three of which have since been released.

In May, the hospital reported only eight hospitalizations total since the pandemic and were celebrating the reopening of its intensive care unit, a portion of which had been set aside specifically for those few COVID-19 patients.

"We have four in ICU today, with one on the ventilator," Lambert said Tuesday. "The remainder are on our COVID medical floor."

She said how long patients stay in the hospital varies, depending on how severe their case is and if there are any other underlying conditions. One of their current patients has been in the hospital for 44 days and counting, she said.

ADPH relies on multiple metrics in determining a county's risk for spreading COVID-19, one of which relies on the county's positive test rate. In that regard, Limestone County is showing a decrease, dropping to 10.53% of tests being confirmed positive for the disease for the last full week of September, according to ADPH.

The county is also continuing to meet testing goals, testing between 1,100 and 1,400 people each week in September, and to report a decrease in visits to emergency rooms or urgent care centers for COVID-like symptoms.

Recommendations

While Limestone County remains in the high-risk category, ADPH recommends residents to not only maintain social distancing and wearing masks or face coverings, but to also do the following:

• Avoid groups of more than 20 people;

• Order takeout, pickup or delivery from restaurants instead of dining in;

• Limit out-of-state travel;

• Maintain social distancing during outdoor recreation;

• Hold online worship services when possible, or schedule additional services to allow for lower attendance and more spacing between households at each service;

• Work from home when possible, but if not, maintain social distance from others and wear a face covering when social distancing is not possible;

• Keep children away from in-person playdates or similar activities outside of the school setting whenever possible; and

• Do not allow children on public playgrounds.

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