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Harris: ‘We hope’ omicron is peaking in Alabama

By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris says he and his staff have hope that the fast-spreading omicron variant of COVID-19 has peaked in Alabama, but that more time and data is needed to know for sure.

The rate of new COVID-19 hospitalizations had slowed a bit ahead of the three day weekend at only about 40 new per day but on Monday the state reported a 126-increase to 2,404 hospitalized statewide.

On Friday’s episode of Capitol Journal on Alabama Public Television, Harris acknowledged the positive trend but said it’s too early to say if omicron is close to running its course.

“I’d say we hope we are, but we really don’t know for sure,” Harris said when asked if the state could be peaking or plateauing with the latest outbreak.

“If you look at what’s happening in the Northeast right now, in New York City and Washington, D.C., they are having a lot of cases and have a lot of people in the hospital but they do seem to have crested and aren’t continuing to go up,” he said. “They got omicron at least a couple of weeks before we did in really big numbers and that’s similar to what’s been reported in South Africa and the U.K.

“If that’s any guide then we could expect to see some improvements in the next couple of weeks — we hope. But these numbers surely just can’t keep going like this for much longer. These (case) numbers are just mind boggling.”

Harris said the state’s COVID-19 case numbers are the highest they have ever been since the start of the pandemic. He attributes that to the omicron variant being much more highly transmissible, even to those who are vaccinated.

The Alabama Department of Public Health reports that the state currently has a 42.6% positivity rate on COVID tests.

“We actually had a day this week when we had more than 14,000 cases in a single day. If you’ll recall, up until omicron hit Alabama, we had never had more than 5,000 cases in a single day and that had only happened a couple of times.”

Harris said the “silver lining” is that the new variant seems to be milder than the first two major ones, especially for vaccinated individuals.

“It’s fortunate that in a lot of cases omicron is less severe on average than we were seeing with delta. That’s really a silver lining to this. But just because of the sheer number of people involved we’re seeing a lot of work absences and a lot of people who are sick and need to be in the hospital.

“We don’t know about deaths because deaths are that lagging indicator and it takes a few weeks to get those totaled up but we are worried we will have deaths as well.”

ADPH reports that 80 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19 since the new year began.

Watch Harris’ interview beginning at 36:10 below.

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