Alabama: There has been a surge in COVID-19 over the past holiday season, but conditions have been more favorable in 2022

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — On the eve of the holiday season, Huntsville Hospital reports that only a handful of patients are being treated for serious illnesses related to COVID-19.

The number of hospitals nationwide has fallen by more than 100 cases to under 200 patients nationwide from the same time a year ago.

But at the top of the state, Colbert, Lauderdale, Limestone, Madison and Jackson counties had “intermediate” county levels, which means an increased impact of cases and hospitalizations, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH).

The numbers look favorable compared to last year, but COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations picked up after Thanksgiving a year ago.

On November 22, 2021, we were seeing nine more COVID-19 patients than the 30 currently at Huntsville Hospital as of November 22, 2022.

Those 2021 numbers increased from a total of 74 patients in the Huntsville hospital system to 94 about a month later to 514 patients by the end of January 2022. That was a 594% increase in two months.

News 19 spoke to Dr. Alabama Department of Health district physician Wes Stubblefield on the prospect of a further rise in cases.

dr Stubblefield said that this year was a lot different than last year. He said positive test numbers are relatively low and community levels are low in most states, although there are no guarantees problems won’t arise.

“A lot of people have at least had their first streak when it comes to the COVID vaccine,” he said. “There is a residual protection, even if it’s not against infection – against hospitalization. Many people have also had COVID-19, possibly multiple times. The bivalent booster and then the decreasing severity of the variants as opposed to the ancestral tribe somehow all play together. Maybe that suggests we won’t have that, but there’s no guarantee we won’t see another surge, especially since these variants mutate and are able to evade the immune system.”

dr Stubblefield said the flu could be a more immediate concern this holiday season and there are precautions that make sense for vulnerable people in certain circumstances.

“Right now, the flu is probably a bigger threat than COVID,” he said. “Not because of the disease itself, but because it is more widespread. We currently have more people hospitalized with the flu than with COVID-19. We’ve seen very high rates, we’re seeing widespread activity across the state and a very early season,” Stubblefield said.

Stubblefield went on to say that the very young, the elderly, or potentially those with underlying medical conditions are the three risk groups as we head out on vacation. These span RSV, COVID-19 and influenza.

ADPH records show there have been a total of 1.54 million cases of COVID-19 and 20,617 deaths since 2020.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that people should consider wearing a mask if they meet a level of risk and are at moderate or high levels in the community. There are reportedly six counties in North Alabama at this “intermediate” level, as mentioned earlier.

dr Stubblefield said a tougher strain of COVID-19 could emerge, but the hope is it will become like the flu, with vaccines and treatments available.

“There’s no guarantee that an earlier strain won’t come back and go through the population, that’s not Omicron,” he said. “Our hope is that the future holds for us: This virus will become one of the seasonal coronaviruses, one of the circulating coronaviruses in the United States. We have a vaccine, we have effective treatments, we’ve learned how to take care of people, we know which people are at risk, so it’s a much more manageable disease than it was two and a half years ago.”

For more information on the current status of COVID-19 in Alabama, visit the ADPH website.