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Gulf Coast’s beloved ‘Redneck Riviera’ now a virus hotspot



GULF SHORES, Ala. (AP) — Vacationers and servers alike dance atop tables and within the aisles at one restaurant on the “Redneck Riviera,” a beloved stretch of cities alongside the northern Gulf Coast the place seashores, bars and shops are packed. But only a few miles away, a hospital is working out of important care beds, its rooms stuffed with unvaccinated individuals combating for his or her lives.

On maps that present virus “sizzling spots” in purple, this a part of the U.S. coast is glowing like a nasty sunburn. And a summer time of booming tourism that adopted the lockdowns and journey restrictions of 2020 is making the flip towards fall with only some indicators of slowing down.

Well being officers consider the spike is because of a mixture of a few of the nation’s lowest vaccination charges, unabated tourism, a disregard for fundamental well being precautions and the area’s carefree life-style, all combining at a time when the mutated virus is extra contagious than ever and conservative states are balking at new well being restrictions.

On a current afternoon, one shopper after one other walked by way of the mouth of an enormous, faux shark right into a Gulf Shores memento store. Mini-golf programs, bars, go-kart tracks, lodges and condominium towers had been full. The Nationwide Shrimp Pageant, which attracts as many as 250,000 individuals to the Alabama coast, is ready for October regardless of the COVID-19 explosion.

Inside The Hangout restaurant, the place dancing on tables is inspired, “Cotton Eye Joe” obtained a raucous reception from the largely unmasked prospects.

“The place did you come from, the place did you go? / The place did you come from, Cotton Eye Joe?” the audio system blared.

The revelry got here as simply 12 miles (19 kilometers) to the north, South Baldwin Regional Medical Middle was treating greater than three dozen COVID-19 sufferers, almost 90% of whom weren’t vaccinated, stated spokesperson Taylor Lewis.

“After Memorial Day it was, ‘Every part is again to regular, go to the seaside, take off your masks,’” stated Dr. Bert Eichold, the chief public well being official of Cellular County, simply west of Gulf Shores. Cellular County’s COVID-19 positivity price has skyrocketed to almost 30%, and the county has essentially the most new instances within the state.

Lisa Hastings, a Louisiana native and nurse visiting the Alabama coast along with her two sisters, appeared on the scenario in two methods. She was somewhat unsettled by the wide-open scene from knowledgeable standpoint, however she additionally doesn’t maintain it towards anybody who needs to get out and have enjoyable, vaccinated or not.

“I feel persons are sort of over being afraid and they also’ve bought to reside their lives,” stated Hastings, who’s vaccinated. Close by, a vacationer from Illinois railed that the pandemic is faux and vaccinations are simply one other methodology of presidency management.

Some have determined towards each getting vaccinated and sporting face masks, selecting as an alternative to occasion with out precautions at locations just like the Flora-Bama, an enormous beachfront bar on the Alabama-Florida line. There, bands play to massive crowds fueled by alcoholic drinks together with the sugary Bushwacker, a coastal favourite.

Lulu’s, a well-liked Gulf Shores restaurant owned by Lucy Buffett, the sister of singer Jimmy Buffett, is amongst those who just lately needed to shut down for every week as a result of the virus was racing by way of employees.

At The Dock, a beachfront restaurant that serves chilly beer and seafood beside the general public seaside in Pensacola, Florida, supervisor Justin Smith stated the vacationer season has been busy and his workers has managed to remain wholesome, not less than to date. Whereas extra vaccinations may assist, Smith stated he’d by no means require his workers to get inoculated.

“I’ve been right here 18 years. It ain’t gonna occur,” he stated.

Outbreaks brought on by the coronavirus are threatening to overwhelm the area’s well being care system and traditions. Panama Metropolis Seaside, Florida, cited the pandemic in canceling an annual nation music competition set for early September, and New Orleans has clamped down on mask-wearing and known as off a number of occasions.

Whereas urging individuals to get vaccinated, state leaders together with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey have resisted imposing new restrictions, whilst hospital beds replenish. On Monday, officers stated 1,560 sufferers wanted intensive care therapy in Alabama, the place hospitals have simply 1,562 ICU beds.

Hospital executives joined collectively in Pensacola final week to plead for extra vaccinations whereas additionally flattening false rumors about vaccines and masks. In an space dominated by Christian conservatives, Mayor Grover C. Robinson IV made a direct enchantment for churchgoers to get pictures.

“Two of our hospitals are Christian affiliated,” he stated. “One of many first issues it says all all through the Bible is, ‘Don’t be afraid.’”

Extra persons are getting preliminary vaccine doses than a couple of weeks in the past, however it hasn’t been sufficient to date to cease the unfold of COVID-19. Of 11 coastal counties in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, Okaloosa County in Florida has the area’s highest share of absolutely vaccinated residents at 41.3%, statistics present. Many are round one-third, and all are under the nationwide common of almost 51%.

Natalie Fox, a nursing government with USA Well being in Cellular, stated medical employees are drained after greater than a 12 months of combating the pandemic. Nonetheless, individuals sick with COVID-19 — the overwhelming majority of them unvaccinated — hold arriving.

“We’re sort of getting sufferers from throughout as a result of all people’s coping with this elevated pressure,” she stated.

It didn’t take a mandate for Rhonda Landrum, a 50-year-old well being care employee from close to Cellular, to get a shot just lately after watching all three of her unvaccinated daughters contract COVID-19. Individuals aren’t taking the pandemic critically, she stated, and it’s simply not protected to be out in public with out the vaccine.

“I received’t journey nowhere,” she stated. “I keep house.”


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