MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Before his death from COVID-19 last week, former Alabama state senator Larry Dixon spoke to his wife of 53 years from his hospital bed and asked her to relay a warning.
“Sweetheart, we messed up. We just dropped our guard,” Dr. David Thrasher, a pulmonologist and friend of Dixon’s recalled him saying.
“The last thing he told her was, ’Gaynell, I love you. We’ve got to tell people this is real," Thrasher said.
Dixon, 78, died Friday from complications of COVID-19. Thrasher said his longtime friend had been conscientious with masks and social distancing. But he did meet with friends at a local restaurant to catch up and smoke cigars, a social gathering the friends referred to as “prayer meeting." Three people at the gathering became ill, Thrasher said.
Thrasher said he is telling his friend’s story with the family’s permission in the hopes that people can learn just how easily the virus can spread at casual gatherings. He said it is also important to seek medical care when they first get sick.
Alabama and much of the country is seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases following Thanksgiving gatherings. The state in the last two weeks has set records for the number of cases reported each day and the number of people in state hospitals with COVID-19.
The state health department has reported more than 276,000 confirmed and probable virus cases and at least 3,942 confirmed and probable virus deaths in Alabama. While the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms in most people, it can be deadly for the elderly and people with other, serious health problems.
The hope generated by the imminent arrival of the vaccine is tempered by what medical officials fear will be unchecked spread before it becomes widely available.
“I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I can also see the locomotive coming at me,” Thrasher said. “The next four months are going to see more devastation and catastrophic problems with public health than we’ve seen probably since 1918. It is going to be very, very bad.”
Dixon was the executive director of the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners from 1981 until his retirement in 2016. A Republican, Dixon was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 1978 and the Alabama Senate in 1983. He retired from the Alabama Legislature in 2010.