Local medical experts are seeing an uptick in COVID cases and fear numbers could spike from family gatherings, vacations and festivals during the Memorial Day weekend.
“Two weeks ago in my 12-county area, the number of hospitalizations was in the 20s; as of yesterday it was in the 50s. It has more than doubled in two weeks’ time,” Judy Smith, administrator of the Alabama Department of Public Health Northern District, said Thursday. “We’ve got a major wait-and-see today, Friday and the first of next week because of the Memorial Day holiday. We’re hoping we’ll see minimal changes, and people will be OK.”
Smith said the number of cases is likely higher than is being reported to ADPH, but it is difficult to monitor with people taking home tests.
She said the omicron variant of the coronavirus and its subvariants are the most prevalent.
"The good news is they don't seem to be as severe an illness, but part of that may be to do with the vaccine and antibody level people have," she said. "On the flip side, they seem to be equally as contagious or more contagious. The chances of getting them are increased but fortunately don't create the hospital requirements. ... (Omicron) is a tricky virus that has the potential to mutate and to spread in a hurry from person to person."
Paige Norris, service line director of diagnostic and outpatient services at Decatur Morgan Hospital, said the hospital has seen “a slight uptick” in cases the past two weeks. “Presently, we have six inpatient cases, but their illnesses are not as severe as we have seen in the past.”
None of the patients are on ventilators or in the intensive care unit, Norris said.
She said throughout April and into early May the hospital had one or two inpatient cases at a time.
Norris said she wouldn’t be surprised if the number of inpatient cases in the next few days reaches 15 because of the Memorial Day holiday.
“That’s a valid concern,” she said. “The area had a lot of wonderful community events and those things raised the alert level. We’ve seen the number of cases rise after holidays. We saw it at Christmas. We saw it at spring break. We’re prepared.”
Decatur Morgan Hospital had more than a 100 inpatient cases at one time over the past 18 months, she said. Statewide and local hospitalizations peaked in early January and late August of 2021 and late January of this year.
Smith said the Morgan County Health Department administered 54 vaccinations last week and 65 two weeks ago. “Tuesday and Wednesday we’ve already given 24,” Smith said. “We’re not giving nearly as many second boosters, but age and immunity issues dictate it. A second booster is not recommended for everyone.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, everyone age 5 years and older should get one booster five months after completing their initial Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine series. A booster is also due five months after anyone 18 and over receives the initial Moderna vaccine series. Those who received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine should receive a booster, preferably of Pfizer or Moderna, two months after the original dose.
The CDC recommends a second booster four months after the first Moderna or Pfizer booster for people ages 50 and over and people who are moderately or severely immunocompromised.
Of those taking COVID tests outside the home over the last seven days in Morgan County, 10.7% have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to ADPH. Since the virus was detected in the state in March 2020, 518 Morgan County residents have died of COVID, including 83 this year.
Morgan County has had a total of 36,411 reported cases of COVID. About 45% of the county's residents have received the full initial vaccine series, and about a third of those have received a booster.
Of those taking COVID tests outside the home over the last seven days in Limestone County, 19.8% have tested positive for the coronavirus. Since the pandemic began, 295 Limestone residents have died of COVID, including 63 this year. Half of Limestone residents have received the initial vaccine series, and 35% of those have received a booster.
Lawrence County has had an 11.2% positivity rate over the last week and has had 160 COVID deaths, including 22 this year. Forty percent of Lawrence residents have completed the initial vaccine series, and about a third of those have received a booster.
Smith said county health departments in north Alabama offer free tests and vaccinations from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.