Omicron variant fueling uptick in Alabama COVID-19 hospitalizations
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - A new variant of omicron continues to fuel a summer wave of COVID-19 in Alabama and across the United States.
Alabama has been dealing with an uptick in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations for much of the last two months as the highly contagious BA.5 subvariant of omicron spreads rapidly, even among the vaccinated and previously infected.
But the current numbers remain far below the peak seen amid previous surges, like in January of this year when nearly 3,000 Alabamians were hospitalized with the virus.
Montgomery-area pulmonologist Dr. David Thrasher says BA.5 is highly contagious which is why we are seeing a large spike in cases, but this variant is not causing as severe of illness or death as with the delta variant or the original omicron strain.
Data from the Alabama Department of Public Health shows there are 661 patients being treated with COVID-19 across Alabama hospitals as of July 20, which is nearly seven times more than the 96 patients being treated two months ago.
“The number of hospitalizations is going up here, but nothing like we had last year,” Thrasher said.
A year ago, the delta variant pushed Montgomery hospitals to the brink, but Thrasher said that hasn’t been the case yet with BA.5.
“I don’t think it could be any more contagious than the BA.5. It’s very contagious. But unless we get one that’s a lot more deadly, we’re going to be OK,” Thrasher said. “The hospitals have done a great job; we’re staffed up well, and good shape.”
Over the last month, Alabama has averaged about 2,000 new cases per day — daily averages we haven’t seen since the state’s major surges. Also, with more people testing at home, it’s hard to know just how high the state’s test positivity rate really is.
But one COVID-19 metric that isn’t showing signs of increase in recent months is deaths.
“Even though numbers are a lot higher with infections, the number of deaths are not dramatically increased,” Thrasher said
The Alabama Hospital Association reports that of the 661 patients being treated in Alabama hospitals, 100 are in intensive care units and 31 are on ventilators. AHA officials said 14% of the current hospitalized COVID patients were boosted.
Vaccinations and prior infections do not prevent people from being infected with BA.5, but Thrasher says getting vaccinated will reduce the odds of being hospitalized.
“Staying current on your boosters is the name of the game,” Thrasher said.
Thrasher does believe that the current COVID-19 vaccines will need to be updated every year as the virus mutates, much like how the flu shot needs to be updated every year.
The Food and Drug Administration authorized Novavax’s protein-based COVID vaccine for adults last week, providing Americans with an alternative to the mRNA-based shots from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. The final hurdle was a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC authorized the vaccine Wednesday.
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