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Health officials: COVID-19 numbers moving in right direction

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

The number of Alabamians hospitalized with COVID-19 dropped below 500 this week for the first time since mid-July.

“It’s been a haul, but we’re down from 2,880 in late August,” Alabama Hospital Association President Dr. Don Williamson told Alabama Daily News on Wednesday. 

The 475 hospitalizations reported on Wednesday is still more than double early summer numbers and more than Williamson said he’s comfortable with going into flu and holiday seasons. As of Tuesday, there were 11 pediatric and four pregnant COVID-19 patients in hospitals.

“There’s still that challenge,” Williamson said.

Other decreases in COVID stats include a drop in the positivity rate to around 6%. And as of Wednesday, 16 counties had high rates of community transmission, down from 64 in late September.

“There’s still work to be done, but things have clearly moved in the right direction,” Williamson said.

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris told ADN on Wednesday he, too is encouraged by recent numbers.

“Of course, we’ve learned that we don’t know what we don’t know so it’s hard to predict how long things will look this way, but we certainly have turned the corner at the moment compared with what we’ve been doing for the last half of the summer and first part of the fall,” Harris said.

The department did report nearly 8,000 new cases on Wednesday, but that’s because of reporting from some new vendors who hadn’t previously been reporting, Harris said.

Harris said the average is now a few hundred new cases per day.

“We’re pretty pleased with that, compared to where we were,” he said.

Like other states and countries, Alabama saw a tremendous spike in cases attributed to the delta variant of COVID-19 over several months. 

“Clearly, people responded in August and early September to the rising case counts by getting vaccinated,” Williamson said.

Williamson also attributes the decrease in hospitalizations to the state’s “extremely aggressive” use of monoclonal antibodies given in the first 10 days after the onset of symptoms reduced hospitalizations by about 70%.

“Probably monoclonal antibodies were the single most important thing that served to get us out of the looming disaster of hospitalizations,” Williamson said.

Harris said he remains concerned though because vaccination rates are again declining.

“As people stop hearing about it everyday, they tend to ignore it,” he said.

Most recent vaccinations have been booster shots, not initial shots, he said.

About 2.5 million Alabamians are partially vaccinated; 2.1 million are fully vaccinated. 

Pending emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccines for children 5 and older will be available in Alabama next week, Harris said. 

Harris noted that the children who will soon be eligible likely have parents who are in their 20s and 30s. Those groups have lower vaccine rates in the state than older age groups.

“It makes me concerned that we’re not going to see a lot of uptake there, but I hope we will,” Harris said.

His advice is for parents to consult their pediatricians with questions.

As the holiday season approaches, Harris said people should remain aware that the virus spreads more easily in indoor spaces where people are in contact for more time.

“If you’re a vulnerable person, by all means, don’t forget that,” he said.

Williamson still encourages those who are vaccinated to wear masks when with large groups indoors.

“You can’t have a breakthrough infection if you don’t get exposed,” he said.

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