BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Dr. Scott Harris, the top medical official in Alabama who has been at the head of all COVID-19 protocols since the start of the pandemic in 2020, has tested positive for the virus.

“I would like to let everyone know that I tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday,” Harris said in a statement. “Fortunately, I am fully vaccinated and have already received my second booster shot. I am having only mild symptoms and will be working from home this week while remaining isolated according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.”

Harris has been state health officer of Alabama since 2017, but became more visible the last couple of years through the pandemic, taking on a role as the leading voice of how the virus was impacting Alabamians and what guidance should be taken.

Harris’ diagnosis comes at a time when the COVID-19 infection rate has been down statewide. In the last 24 hours, there have only been 156 cases reported across Alabama, although testing is down. However, health officials believe another strain of the virus could be coming within the next few months, bringing cases back up again.

“While case numbers have declined recently in Alabama, this serves as a reminder that COVID-19 continues to circulate in our state,” Harris said. “The single best way to prevent serious illness or death is to be fully vaccinated and boosted.”  

Dr. Karen Landers with the Department of Public Health emphasizes that the best way to prevent severe illness from COVID is to get vaccinated.

“We have friends and colleagues that have become positive even after being vaccinated, but again, our data supports a much better outcome if you are vaccinated,” Landers said.

According to the health department’s COVID-19 dashboard, the state is at a 2.8% positivity rate, with every county but one rated at a low or moderate community transmission level. Shelby County is the exception, with a 8.3% positivity rate.

Landers says the situation now is far better than a year ago, but it’s not over yet.

“I think we’re leveling off at a lower number of cases and lower rate right now but again, persons can still contract COVID and certainly we want people to take advantage of being up to date on vaccines,” Landers said.

Landers notes while people are still being hospitalized for the virus, the state marked a positive milestone recently.

“A few weeks ago was the first time we got under 100 persons hospitalized with COVID since almost two years ago, so again we’re very happy that our numbers are going down,” Landers said.

According to the health department data, just over 50% of Alabamians are fully vaccinated, well below the national average of 65%.