Alabama is starting off the new year in a bad place, as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations steadily increase and school children prepare to return to classes after holiday break.
Alabama’s official tally added a record-breaking 40,698 new COVID cases over the week ending Sunday, eclipsing the state’s previous high of 32,884 set on the week ending Sept. 2, 2021, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.
The state doubled the number of COVID hospitalizations in just more than seven days, with 994 COVID patients hospitalized statewide on Sunday, which was a 202 percent increase from Dec. 1.
The average of the percent of COVID tests that were positive, a good marker to determine the extent of the virus’s spread, for the week ending Sunday was also record high, at 35.5 percent. Public health experts say it should be at or below 5 percent or cases are going undetected and the disease is widespread across communities.
Those dire markers are reflected in the Alabama Department of Public Health’s map, which lists all of Alabama’s 67 counties as having high levels of community transmission.
Alabama’s abysmal vaccination rate is likely a major factor in the state’s terrible COVID numbers. The state has the third lowest percentage of fully vaccinated residents in the nation, and the third lowest percentage of residents who have received a booster shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Alabama also has the second highest percentage of COVID deaths per capita in the nation, according to the CDC.
The state’s vaccination rate is much worse among younger Alabamians compared to older residents. Of Alabama’s children aged 12 to 17, just 34.9 percent are vaccinated, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health, and just 8.4 percent of kids between 5 and 11 are vaccinated.
Some public schools are reacting to the surging COVID numbers. Macon County Schools, citing rising cases and record-high percent positivity, will spend the first week back from break conduction classes virtually, WSFA 12 reported.
Bessemer City Schools will require face masks for students and teachers when classes resume, according to WBRC.
The more contagious omicron COVID variant continues to spread quickly across the U.S., setting off surges in cases and hospitalizations elsewhere as is being seen in Alabama.
There are indications that the omicron variant may not cause as severe an illness in some, but the speed at which it is spreading, and the growing number of cases, means hospitalizations will continue to increase, worrying medical providers who warn that hospital resources aren’t infinite.
“ADPH urges all age-eligible Alabamians to continue to follow recommendations to be vaccinated and those 16 years of age and above to be boosted to reduce severe disease, hospitalization and death,” the Alabama Department of Public Health said in a Dec. 28 statement.
“According to CDC, data from South Africa and the United Kingdom demonstrate that vaccine effectiveness against infection for two doses of an mRNA vaccine is approximately 35 percent. A COVID-19 vaccine booster dose restores vaccine effectiveness against infection to 75 percent.”