COVID Surge Continues, Could Peak in Mid- to Late-January

A rendering of the omicron variant of COVID-19. (Source: Pixabay)

Alabama logged 16,999 new cases of coronavirus over the weekend and reached a positivity rate of 36.4%.

Since the pandemic began in March 2020, the state has had 913,613 total cases of COVID-19.

However, no new deaths were reported over the weekend. So far 16,455 Alabamians have died from the virus.

Jefferson County’s positivity rate, the rate of COVID tests that returned a positive result, is now a record 39.2%. Another 3,465 new cases of COVID were reported over the weekend, bringing the county’s total cases since the pandemic began to 130,048.

The surge in cases is largely being driven by the spread of the omicron variant, which is far more virulent than previous strains, including delta, but tends to cause less serious illness.

That surge is expected to reach its peak in mid- to late-January, Dr. Sarah Nafziger, vice president of clinical support services at UAB, said in a press conference Monday afternoon.

Now, she said, “Community transmission is just spreading like wildfire.”

Nafziger said hospitalizations at UAB are increasing but not skyrocketing like they did when delta was at its peak.

Statewide, there were 1,104 patients hospitalized with COVID Monday. That’s up drastically from the 264 patients logged three weeks ago but far from the peak of more than 3,000 in September.

However, the patient load could become as issue because, increasingly, staffers are out either because they have COVID or they are caring for someone with the disease, Nafziger said.

She said unnecessary Emergency Department visits also still are causing problems at UAB. She advised people not to go to the ED for COVID tests or for a checkup after they test positive but only if they are “terribly ill,” such as beginning to have problems breathing.

The ED needs capacity to care for patients who require emergency care for other reasons as well as for COVID, she pointed out.

She also reminded people that the delta variant, which can cause more severe illness, also is still circulating in Alabama.

The presentation of omicron has been different than the presentation of delta she said. Mostly, omicron is more like a head cold, with a sore throat, headache and sinus issues, and delta is more like a chest cold, with a dry cough and labored breathing.

Also with omicron, she said, people are less likely to experience loss of smell or taste than they are with the delta variant.

If you have any of those symptoms, Nafziger recommended taking a COVID test and isolating for at least five days.