Kick COVID While It’s Down, Health Experts Urge

Transmission electron micrograph of a SARS-CoV-2 virus particle Source: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Alabamians have a chance right now to substantially reduce COVID cases in the state, UAB officials said in a press conference Wednesday.

The state is seeing a downtick in the number of new COVID cases; in fact, the Alabama Department of Public Health on Wednesday reported the number of new cases had dropped for the 17th consecutive day.

Delta is the primary variant of the COVID virus that is circulating in the state and in the U.S., said Russell Griffin, Ph.D and associate professor at the UAB School of Public Health. Continuing vaccinations could prevent another variant from forming.

UAB epidemiologist Dr. Rachael Lee added that higher vaccination rates, the advent of booster shots and natural immunity built up by those who have had COVID all are weapons in the war against the virus.

Making headway now depends on the community not becoming complacent but continuing to wear masks, get vaccinated and stay home when they are sick, she said.

She urged patients who have survived COVID to get vaccinated because vaccines provide three times the antibodies. Natural immunity is highly variable and can last from three to 15 months after someone has had the disease, she said.

Lee also referred to a drug that has been tested by Merk with apparently positive results. Officials with the pharmaceutical company said Friday that they will seek emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration as soon as possible for its molnupiravir drug. If the FDA agrees, it could be available later this year.

The drug is given in a regimen of several pills daily for five days, and it appears to reduce hospitalizations by 50% percent if given early enough.

Dr. Robert Shafer an infectious disease specialist at Stanford University, is quoted in The New York Times saying he thinks the drug “will translate into many thousands of lives being saved worldwide, where there’s less access to monoclonal antibodies, and in this country, too.’”

Last October, COVID cases were on the rise. But Alabama is in a bit of a lull. COVID cases surged in late August and in early September, topping 5,000 new cases a day at times. But Wednesday, the state’s daily average case count had dropped below 1,400.

This year and last, there has been a drop in the number of COVID cases every 2½ months, Lee said. “We don’t know the reason,” she said.

UAB also is repeating a pattern. “There has been an uptick in the number of cases for the last couple of days that follows a pattern,” said Russell Griffin, Ph.D and associate professor at the UAB School of Public Health. “There is a slight uptick every seven days, then the numbers continue downward.”

Keeping that downward trend going is up to the community, Lee and Griffin reiterate.

“It’s a good time to reach people,” Lee said, and to pave the way for safe holidays.