Alabama’s new reported COVID cases have declined slightly in the last few days but hospitalizations continue to increase, and while it’s possible the state’s omicron surge is slowing, COVID-19 will likely be with us for some time, according to a UAB professor.
Suzanne Judd, a professor and epidemiologist at UAB, told reporters Tuesday that the state’s surge could last another two to three weeks before Alabama could begin to see some relief.
“And then it should go back down to what it was pre-omicron,” Judd said. “What we don’t know in the future is when the next surge will come, but most likely we will see another future surge.”
Judd explained that it’s probable that COVID-19 will become endemic, meaning the virus will remain circulating as new dominant variants surface.
“Herd immunity is probably not possible with this one. Not the type of herd immunity where we never see the virus again,” Judd said.
Alabama’s average number of new daily reported cases to the Alabama Department of Public Health over the week ending Monday was 10,709. That’s a slight drop from this latest surge’s seven-day average of new daily case record high, set on Sunday at 11,417.
There were 2,566 people hospitalized with COVID in Alabama on Tuesday, the highest it’s been since Sept. 10. Of those hospitalized Tuesday, 93 were children, down just slightly from the record high Monday of 97, according to the Alabama Hospital Association.
East Alabama Health’s hospitals hit a record high 100 COVID patients on Tuesday, with 60 of those 100 being unvaccinated, the hospital system said in a COVID update.
“It goes without saying that this is a milestone that we never wanted, or expected, to reach,” Laura Grill, East Alabama Health president and CEO said in a statement Tuesday. “This level of hospitalizations, coupled with around 100 employees currently being out with COVID, creates a significant strain on our staff. But I could not be prouder of our entire East Alabama team for their commitment and endurance. Their resiliency over the past 22 months has been amazing to watch.”
Judd said what’s become clear is that people cannot rely on immunity from previous infections to protect against future COVID infections.
“We originally had hoped that this particular virus would give lasting immunity, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to be the case,” Judd said.
“The best way to ensure that those surges are not so bad is vaccination,” Judd said of future surges. “Vaccine and a booster. That’s going to help keep you out of the hospital. It may not keep you from getting symptoms of COVID, but it will help keep you out of the hospital and prevent death, which is probably the most important thing to most people.”
Alabama’s percentage of fully vaccinated residents still lags all but two other states, at 48.4 percent, and the state has the third-highest COVID death rate per capita in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Judd said the best face mask on the market are N95 masks, but the masks should fit properly to provide the best protection.
“The N95 definitely performs slightly better, but again, the best mask that you can use is the one you’ll wear, so make sure that you’ve got a good mask and that it fits tightly around your face,” Judd said.