JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — The Jefferson County Department of Health held a news conference to increase awareness of our steadily climbing COVID-19 cases in Jefferson County.

JCDH subject matter experts attempted to encourage vaccinations, provide facts and guidance on other precautions including mask-wearing, and address media inquiries.

The county has seen a rapid increase in cases recently, mainly due to the Delta variant of the virus. A month ago, Jefferson County saw 13 cases per day, which was one of the lowest during the pandemic. As of this past week, the county is seeing 99 cases per day.

“I want to make sure the public is aware the risk of contracting COVID-19 has increased dramatically in the last few weeks, especially for the unvaccinated,” Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson said.

Dr. Wilson was joined by Medical Director of Disease Control Dr. Wesley Willeford and Child Health Medical Director & Laboratory Director Dr. Khalilah Brown.

Dr. Wilson opened up the press conference saying he wished he didn’t have to hold this press conference.

“I’m sure everyone wishes that they would never see me here again and talking about rising COVID-19 cases. Believe me, I share that sentiment,” Dr. Wilson said. “But here we are again.”

Officials said the risk of contracting the virus and experiencing difficulties associated with it are those who have yet to be vaccinated, especially now that the highly contagious Delta variant is the dominant strain of COVID-19 in Alabama.

And with the rise in cases, so too is the rise in hospitalizations and deaths. Dr. Wilson said that “just a couple of days ago,” there were 118 adults and five children that were hospitalized in Jefferson County for COVID-19. There were only 30 at the end of June.

“Based on these hospital numbers and on the case numbers, we will, unfortunately, see more COVID-19 deaths,” Dr. Wilson said. “The tragic thing is that almost all of these deaths will have been prevented if only those people had been vaccinated.”

When addressing vaccine hesitancy, Dr. Willeford explained just how uncommon having severe side effects to the vaccine.

“The National Weather Service estimates that being struck by lightning, and the odds of that happening during a person’s life, is 1 out of 15,300,” he said. “The chances of having a serious event related to a COVID-19 vaccine is approximately 7 out of 1,000,000. You’re almost 10 times, 10 times, more likely to be struck by lightning than you are to experience an adverse side effect related to the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Health officials here are urging you to get vaccinated if you haven’t already and strongly recommend you wear a face mask around other people and indoor settings.

JCDH still maintained that the vaccination rate is too low in Jefferson County and Alabama in general. The state ranks last in the country at only about a third of people being fully vaccinated.

Willeford said there is more virus present with the Delta variant, making an encounter under a minute with an infected person that much easier to catch it.

“Even fleeting encounters with this virus may be enough to get you sick because there’s just so much virus in a particular particle,” Willeford said.

Which is why they’re strongly encouraging kids 12 and up get a shot, and regardless of vaccine status wear a mask at school, even if it’s not required.

“Please remember that the vaccine is not just about preventing death, it is also about preventing severe illness and hospitalization,” Brown said. “This means our children can go to school in person safely.”

Because if too many people end up in the hospital, county health leaders said they’re ready to crack down with tighter restrictions.

“Ultimately if the hospitals do get overwhelmed, we may have to step up and take further actions,” Wilson said.

Wilson said there is not a specific threshold they are looking for with hospitalizations for COVID yet, but they are working with hospitals now to figure that out. The best thing you can do now is get vaccinated and wear a mask when you’re indoors or near other people.

You can view the entire press conference in the video player above.