Hospitalizations for virus, school cases increase in Alabama

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (AP) – COVID-19 numbers are heading in the wrong direction again in Alabama, with hospitalizations up more than 50% from a month ago and school cases climbing in the state with the second highest death rate in the country during the pandemic.

Although the state’s healthcare system is in much better shape than it was in August and September, when hospitals were nearing full capacity and officials feared the network was reaching breaking point, numbers are slowly rising, said Dr. Scott Harris, chief of the Alabama Department of Public Health.

“We’re a little concerned about how our numbers are going,” Harris said in a Facebook chat live Monday night by the Alabama State Medical Association.

About 400 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized statewide on Monday, up from around 250 a month ago, according to health department statistics. Harris called the number “very manageable” for a system that was treating about 3,000 pandemic patients daily in the fall.

“But still, a 25% increase in the past two weeks is cause for concern,” Harris said.

The new, fast-spreading omicron The variant has been confirmed in the state, but health officials don’t believe it has passed the delta strain yet. Omicron cases are not responding to monoclonal antibody treatments that have helped patients in recent months, which is a problem once the variant goes into effect, officials said.

Alabama schools reported 750 cases of COVID-19 this week, up about 25% from 589 last week. The largest increases were seen in the large metropolitan areas around Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile and Montgomery, as well as in rural Walker County, north-west of Birmingham.

With only about 47% of the state’s population fully vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19, more than 16,350 people have died from the disease in Alabama, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins. The death toll is the 16th highest nationally and the second highest per capita with nearly 335 deaths per 100,000 people.

Dr Michael Saag, an infectious disease expert at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said there was still time for additional vaccinations to stem a wave of new infections. People who are not vaccinated make up the vast majority of people treated in hospitals, he said, comparing an upcoming wave of infections of the new omicron variant of the virus to an approaching tornado.

“There is a storm coming and we need to get to our safe place, and the safest place we can be is with vaccines,” said Saag, who has recovered from a fight with COVID -19 at the start of the pandemic.

The moving average of daily new cases in the state over the past two weeks has increased by 332, a jump of 66.6%, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Although there were around 197 new cases per 100,000 population in the state during the period, it ranks 50th nationally.

Dr Aruna Arora, president of the state medical organization, said doctors were worried about what would happen to people who had not been vaccinated and had not received a booster.

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