Archived Messages

Messages from State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris

Wash Your Hands!

The emergence of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 has created a renewed awareness of the need for proper handwashing. Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps to take to avoid becoming sick and spreading germs to others. Many diseases and conditions are spread by failing to wash hands with soap and clean, running water.

Respiratory viruses such as COVID-19 spread when mucus or droplets containing the virus get into your body through your eyes, nose, or mouth. Most often, this transmission happens through your hands.

To help prevent COVID-19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends handwashing for at least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public place or after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Although it can be difficult, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

It is especially important to wash your hands:

  • Before eating or preparing food
  • Before touching your face
  • After using the restroom
  • After leaving a public place
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After handling your cloth face covering
  • After changing a diaper
  • After caring for someone sick
  • After touching animals or pets

How should you wash your hands? Wet them with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap. Using soap to wash hands is more effective than using water alone because the surfactants in soap lift soil and microbes from skin. People tend to scrub hands more thoroughly when using soap, which further removes germs. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. Lathering and scrubbing hands creates friction, which helps lift dirt, grease, and microbes from skin. Microbes are present on all surfaces of the hand, often in particularly high concentration under the nails, so the entire hand should be scrubbed. Wash them for 20 seconds or longer. Use whatever song you prefer to time the duration of the handwashing process. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Do not purchase products that contain methanol, a type of wood alcohol that can be toxic when absorbed through the skin. After applying the hand sanitizer, cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry. Do not use baby wipes as a substitute; they are not designed to remove germs from your hands. Also, remember that wearing gloves does not negate the need for handwashing. Wash your hands both before and after putting gloves on.

Proper handwashing needs to be routine for everyone, both within and outside the home. In addition to helping prevent the transmission of COVID-19, studies have shown that handwashing can prevent 1 in 3 diarrhea-related illnesses and 1 in 5 respiratory infections, such as cold or flu. It is especially important for parents to set a good example for children by always washing their own hands and insisting that their children make it a habit.

Hand hygiene is an important tool in our state’s response to COVID-19. Handwashing is simple to achieve, costs very little, and is effective in killing germs. Just like wearing facial coverings, frequent and thorough handwashing not only helps protect you, it helps protect those around you from infection.

Scott Harris, M.D.
State Health Officer

(August 2020)

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Don’t Succumb to ‘COVID Caution Fatigue’

The novel coronavirus COVID-19 has changed behaviors in our society as we have adjusted to new everyday practices that reduce risk. For months you may have been practicing social distancing, washing your hands frequently, using bottle after bottle of hand sanitizer, disinfecting surfaces assiduously, staying home as much as possible, and wearing a face covering in public. You have remained well physically, are tired of following the rules of prevention, and are ready to relax. Perhaps you have a false sense of security if you have not been directly impacted by COVID, if neither you nor anyone with whom you are closely associated has contracted the virus. This condition has been called “COVID caution fatigue.”

Too many people are failing to take precautions and follow the simple steps that have been proven to prevent transmission of the virus. As Alabama is experiencing increased numbers of cases and, regrettably, more deaths, now is not the time to let your guard down. Ignoring the evidence-based guidance poses dangers to you, your family, and your community just because you are experiencing occasional burnout.

Young men and women are thought to drive some of the rise in cases, perhaps because of their perceived invincibility since most cases are mild. Many millennials rely on social media and other sources that are not necessarily qualified to guide health decisions. Other adults mistakenly view practices such as wearing face coverings as political statements. The virus is highly contagious and threatening to everyone. Regardless of age, disability, or underlying risk factors we are all interconnected and can spread the infection to others who are more vulnerable than ourselves.

To offset reckless behavior in this time of uncertainty, experts suggest doing the things that give physical, emotional, and spiritual energy. Do not attempt to cope by misusing substances as some Alabamians have done. The Office of Emergency Medical Services found a significant increase in the administration of naloxone for drug overdoses this spring as compared with pre-pandemic levels. Instead of dealing with stress and anxiety by misusing drugs, including alcohol, engage in physical activity, eat nutritious food, drink plenty of water, and get sufficient sleep.

I urge you to carefully consider your actions and be consistent in maintaining your newly acquired habits as we live through this serious pandemic. Ultimately, it is every individual’s responsibility to take the necessary steps to help contain the spread, care for others, and save lives at this unique time. COVID-19 cases and deaths in Alabama continue to rise, but each of us has the power to reverse this alarming trend.

Scott Harris, M.D.
State Health Officer

(July 2020)

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Wear Face Coverings to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19 and Show You Care About Others

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) emphasizes the critical importance of maintaining 6-feet social distancing and has recommended wearing cloth face coverings in public when physical distancing is difficult to maintain. Studies illustrate how COVID-19 can be spread through speaking, coughing, and sneezing--including by asymptomatic people. This is especially important in Alabama where we are experiencing significant community transmission.

Face coverings are simply barrier protections that make a barrier between your face and the air around you. Face coverings prevent you from spreading respiratory droplets and can prevent you from acquiring the virus from others. Making this practice a habit can help keep your family, co-workers, and community safe. This is the simplest act of kindness you can take for your community, especially those who are at high risk of contracting the virus.

Cloth face coverings can help slow the spread of COVID-19 when combined with everyday preventive actions and social distancing in public settings. The only segments of our population who should not use them are children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the face covering without assistance. If persons feel ill when wearing them, they should properly remove the face covering and get fresh air. Ongoing problems with wearing a face covering should be discussed with the person's healthcare provider.

Simple cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost. Others can be purchased at a wide range of price, material, and design.

The CDC provides the following instructions about the use of face coverings:

Wear Your Face Covering Correctly

  • Wash your hands before putting on your face covering
  • Put it over your nose and mouth and secure it under your chin
  • Try to fit it snugly against the sides of your face
  • Make sure you can breathe easily

Use the Face Covering to Protect Others

  • Wear a face covering to help protect others in case you’re infected but don’t have symptoms
  • Keep the covering on your face the entire time you’re in public
  • Don’t put the covering around your neck or up on your forehead
  • Don’t touch the face covering, and, if you do, wash your hands

Follow Everyday Health Habits

  • Stay at least 6 feet away from others
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick
  • Wash your hands often, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds each time
  • Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available

Take Off Your Cloth Face Covering Carefully, When You’re Home

  • Untie the strings behind your head or stretch the ear loops
  • Handle only by the ear loops or ties
  • Fold outside corners together
  • Place covering in the washing machine
  • Be careful not to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth when removing and wash hands immediately after removing.

While wearing a face covering in warmer weather is uncomfortable, a cotton face covering will not contribute to heat stress in otherwise healthy persons. Some tips to improve comfort with face coverings in warmer weather include using light-colored cotton material and being sure it fits in a snug manner over the nose and mouth without being tight. Some people find that a face covering with ties is a comfortable way to adjust fit. Having more than one cotton face covering is helpful so that, if the covering becomes damp, another one can be used. Finally, cotton face coverings should be washed and dried daily.

Wearing face coverings is not a substitute for social distancing, washing hands, and staying home while ill, but they are helpful when combined with these primary interventions. Wearing a face covering is an outward and visible way to demonstrate good manners, show respect for others, and help safeguard the health of Alabamians.

Scott Harris, M.D.
State Health Officer

(June 2020)

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Safeguard Your Overall Health in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Coronavirus disease, (COVID-19), is a major stressor as Alabama experiences a true state of emergency and one whose end is not yet in sight. No one was fully prepared for the current outbreak which has infected more than 1 million people in our country alone. Everyone’s routines have been changed and many are facing significant financial and other pressures like never before. This time of social distancing finds people may be more vulnerable to emotional and physical illness.

While fear and anxiety about this deadly virus can be overwhelming, experience shows there are ways to cope. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests the following:

  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Take care of your body.
    -- Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate.
    -- Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
    -- Exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep.
    -- Avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.

Taking care of yourself should also involve making proactive steps to safeguard your physical health. Now that Alabama’s stay at home orders have been modified, there are many positive actions that you can take for better health. Preventive care for conditions such as hypertension should not be overlooked. Medical appointments can be kept and elective surgeries that had to be postponed can be rescheduled. Healthcare providers are acutely aware of the risks posed by COVID-19 and know to strictly adhere to infection control measures to protect everyone’s health and safety. Telehealth remains an option for many specialties while you try to stay at home.

Prenatal care is vital as Alabama continues to face an urgent maternal and infant health crisis along with the pandemic. While it is not known whether pregnant women have a greater chance of becoming sick with COVID-19, at this time it appears pregnant women seem to have risks equal to other adults who are not pregnant. Be sure to contact your health care provider to receive recommendations on getting the care you need while preventing the spread of disease, perhaps through telemedicine.

Alabama pediatricians and public health providers recently cautioned that we must maintain high rates of childhood vaccination by adhering to a schedule of vaccinations at recommended intervals. As an example of the need, measles is highly contagious and can be a serious illness in all age groups, especially in preschoolers and adults. One of four people with measles will be hospitalized; a few will get encephalitis and may die. This is especially tragic since measles is largely preventable (more than 97 percent) with vaccination.

Our department’s vision continues to be healthy people, healthy communities, healthy Alabama. Everyone needs to take precautions to prevent COVID-19, but there is no need to panic. We expect recommendations and treatments for this deadly virus will continue to advance. More is being learned each day, so I hope you stay motivated to gain knowledge and continue to consistently follow the practices that will prevent the spread of the disease in your home, community, and state.

Scott Harris, M.D.
State Health Officer

(May 2020)

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Stay at home; social distancing is necessary to combat COVID-19

The novel coronavirus COVID-19 is changing the way all of us conduct our daily lives, and a welcome change is that social distancing is being practiced in Alabama. I encourage you to be consistent in your efforts to stay at least 6 feet away from other people and avoid situations that would increase the risk of spreading COVID-19.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), limiting face-to-face contact with others is the best way to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Staying home and avoiding close contact with others is necessary to prevent exposure to the virus and to slow its spread. This is especially important if you are at higher risk of severe illness or if you have concerns about getting assistance if you get sick.

COVID-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact for a prolonged period. Spread happens when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks, and droplets from their mouth or nose are launched into the air and land in the mouths or noses of people nearby. The droplets can also be inhaled into the lungs. Recent studies indicate that people who are infected but do not have symptoms likely also play a role in the spread of COVID-19.

A person may get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes. However, this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. COVID-19 can live for hours or days on a surface, depending on factors such as sunlight and humidity. Social distancing helps limit contact with infected people and contaminated surfaces.

If doing something would increase the risk of transmitting COVID-19, try to avoid or delay that activity if you can. Stay at home as much as possible, but if you must leave home to shop for food or medicine, the CDC offers these tips for social distancing:

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others, including when you have to go out in public, for example to the grocery store. Always stay at least 6 feet away from others, even when you wear a face covering.
  • Use mail-order for medications, if possible.
  • Consider a grocery delivery service.
  • Do not allow in-person playdates for children.
  • Work from home when possible.
  • Avoid using any kind of public transportation if possible. 

Consider other strategies to stay distant from others. For example, if dropping off groceries or medicine for other persons, call ahead and leave items outside. If you need to unpack and put away groceries and other items, have the recipients go to another room while you are in the home. When you return home from running essential errands, be sure to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds.

This is the time for every Alabamian to do the right thing for yourself and your community and stay safe at home. Our success in reducing the number of COVID-19 infections depends on you.

Scott Harris, M.D.
State Health Officer

(April 2020)

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A Message from the State Health Officer Regarding COVID-19

March 3, 2020

Since mid-January, the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) has worked with local, state, and federal partners to learn, prepare, and provide the most up-to-date information to the public about the novel coronavirus COVID-19. Our department has been in almost constant daily contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and is coordinating our response efforts with multiple agencies. With the growing public concern about this coronavirus, our knowledge continues to increase. While no cases have been identified in Alabama at this time, we continue to monitor and prepare.

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that has symptoms similar to influenza--fever, coughing, shortness of breath. In most cases, people do not need to be hospitalized, but people with chronic conditions, older people, and those with compromised immune systems are at greater risk. Flu shots are recommended for those who have not had one this season. If an outbreak occurs, having had a flu shot will allow for earlier identification and limit confusion as to whether the individual has COVID-19 or the flu.

Alabama has a considerable amount of experience dealing with infectious diseases. These include Ebola, Zika, and H1N1 influenza. For a number of years, ADPH has worked closely with healthcare providers and hospitals on ways to evaluate patients and to provide the best advice and guidance. Our hospitals have planned strategies and regularly practice their emergency preparedness plans to deal with disease threats. We have also communicated with schools, businesses, and institutions of higher learning, and are confident that Alabama has developed a strong plan.

As a clearer picture is emerging, ADPH advises the general public that the best way to avoid infection is to wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face, cover coughs and sneezes, stay home when you are ill, and practice social distancing strategies such as staying 6 feet apart from other individuals. People taking medications, especially seniors, should make sure they have adequate supplies of blood pressure and other prescriptions.

Everyone has a role to play in keeping our state safe and healthy. Misinformation about any health issue can be dangerous, so please seek reputable sources of information about COVID-19 such as is found on this website. The ADPH Infectious Diseases & Outbreaks (ID&O) Division can answer general questions at 334-206-5347 during regular business hours or you may visit Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).

Scott Harris, M.D.
State Health Officer

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March - 20 Food, Nutrition, and Health Tips for 2020

National Nutrition Month, celebrated each year during the month of March, focuses on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. The National Nutrition Month ® 2020 theme is “Eat Right, Bite by Bite.”

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has provided the following 20 health tips for 2020. Please review them. Even small changes in eating a variety of nutritious foods can lead to better health.

1. Eat Breakfast

Start your morning with a healthy breakfast that includes lean protein, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Try making a breakfast burrito with scrambled eggs, low-fat cheese, salsa, and a whole wheat tortilla or a parfait with low-fat plain yogurt, fruit, and whole grain cereal.

2. Make Half Your Plate Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and veggies add color, flavor, and texture plus vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber to your plate. Make 2 cups of fruit and 2 ½ cups of vegetables your daily goal. Experiment with different types, including fresh, frozen, and canned.

3. Watch Portion Sizes

Get out the measuring cups and see how close your portions are to the recommended serving size. Use half your plate for fruits and vegetables and the other half for grains and lean protein foods. To complete the meal, add a serving of fat-free or low-fat milk or yogurt.

4. Be Active

Regular physical activity has many health benefits. Start by doing what exercise you can. Children and teens should get 60 or more minutes of physical activity per day, and adults at least two hours and 30 minutes per week. You don't have to hit the gym—take a walk after dinner or play a game of catch or basketball.

5. Get to Know Food Labels

Reading the Nutrition Facts panel can help you shop and eat or drink smarter.

6. Fix Healthy Snacks

Healthy snacks can sustain your energy levels between meals, especially when they include a combination of foods. Choose from two or more of the MyPlate food groups: grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy, and protein. Try raw veggies with low-fat cottage cheese, or a tablespoon of peanut butter with an apple or banana.

7. Consult an RDN

Whether you want to lose weight, lower your health-risks, or manage a chronic disease, consult the experts! Registered dietitian nutritionists can help you by providing sound, easy-to-follow personalized nutrition advice.

8. Follow Food Safety Guidelines

Reduce your chances of getting sick with proper food safety. This includes: regular hand washing, separating raw foods from ready-to-eat foods, cooking foods to the appropriate internal temperature, and refrigerating food promptly. Learn more about home food safety at

9. Drink More Water

Quench your thirst with water instead of drinks with added sugars. Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water, especially if you are active, an older adult, or live or work in hot conditions.

10. Get Cooking

Preparing foods at home can be healthy, rewarding, and cost-effective. Master some kitchen basics, like dicing onions or cooking dried beans.

11. Dine Out without Ditching Goals

You can eat out and stick to your healthy eating plan! The key is to plan ahead, ask questions, and choose foods carefully. Compare nutrition information, if available, and look for healthier options that are grilled, baked, broiled, or steamed.

12. Enact Family Meal Time

Plan to eat as a family at least a few times each week. Set a regular mealtime. Turn off the TV, phones, and other electronic devices to encourage mealtime talk. Get kids involved in meal planning and cooking and use this time to teach them about good nutrition.

13. Banish Brown Bag Boredom

Whether it’s for work or school, prevent brown bag boredom with easy-to-make, healthy lunch ideas. Try a whole-wheat pita pocket with veggies and hummus or a low sodium vegetable soup with whole grain crackers or a salad of mixed greens with lowfat dressing and a hard-boiled egg.

14. Reduce Added Sugars

Foods and drinks with added sugars can contribute empty calories and little or no nutrition. Review the new and improved Nutrition Facts labels or ingredients list to identify sources of added sugars.

15. Eat Seafood Twice a Week

Seafood—fish and shellfish—contains a range of nutrients including healthy omega-3 fats. Salmon, trout, oysters, and sardines are higher in omega-3s and lower in mercury.

16. Explore New Foods and Flavors

Add more nutrition and eating pleasure by expanding your range of food choices. When shopping, make a point of selecting a fruit, vegetable, or whole grain that’s new to you or your family.

17. Experiment with Plant-Based Meals

Expand variety in your menus with budget friendly meatless meals. Many recipes that use meat and poultry can be made without them. Eating a variety of plant foods can help. Vegetables, beans, and lentils are all great substitutes. Try including one meatless meal per week to start. Eating a variety of plant foods can help. Vegetables, beans, and lentils are all great substitutes. Try including one meatless meal per week to start.

18. Make an Effort to Reduce Food Waste

Check out what foods you have on hand before stocking up at the grocery store. Plan meals based on leftovers and only buy what you will use or freeze within a couple of days. Managing these food resources at home can help save nutrients and money.

19. Slow Down at Mealtime

Instead of eating on the run, try sitting down and focusing on the food you're about to eat. Dedicating time to enjoy the taste and textures of foods can have a positive effect on your food intake.

20. Supplement with Caution

Choose foods first for your nutrition needs. A dietary supplement may be necessary when nutrient requirements can't be met or there is a confirmed deficiency. If you're considering a vitamin, mineral, or herbal supplement, be sure to discuss safe and appropriate options with an RDN or another healthcare provider before taking it.

Scott Harris, M.D.
State Health Officer

(March 3, 2020)

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Page last updated: September 1, 2020