HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The Alabama Department of Public Health is reporting a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks.

As the Omicron variant becomes the dominant virus strain in the U.S., Alabama health officials are expressing concern about where things are headed.

Dr. Wes Stubblefield with Alabama Department of Public Health said the timing of the surge in cases is complicated by the holiday season, with travel and gatherings and parties. And, it’s cold and flu season.

“I think our level of concern right now is at its highest level,” Dr. Stubblefield said. “Because all we see from our perspective are numbers. You know we get daily updates on multiple different types of numbers and all of the numbers we see, everything is moving in the wrong direction. Everything is kind of straight up.”

The state is reporting new cases are up 191% in the past week; positive tests up from 5.8% to 18.2% in the past two weeks, and hospitalizations are up 85% in the past month, to 528, the highest figure since October.

The Omicron strain has moved rapidly across much of the globe.

“Because of how fast Omicron develops it has been suggested that it could potentially resolve fast and we’ll come out the other side of this pretty quickly, much more quickly than we did with the Delta wave,” Dr. Stubblefield said. “But none of us know, and that’s the thing we’re worried about the most.”

Dr. Stubblefield said the early indications on the Omicron strain are that it’s milder, but he said that data is still limited. He stressed that people will still get ill from it and some will die. He said the best defense is to get vaccinated, or if you are six months from your last shot — you need a booster.

So, can the sharp rise in cases and positive tests be attributed to Omicron?

“You know coming from other states knowing that most of the variants have switched over to omicron in other states and with the rapidity of the rise, we’d assume it’s an Omicron-related surge,” he said. “The disease is really unknown, though it may be closer to sort of a common cold, where people have more of the cough, congestion, runny nose-type symptoms. The important thing to remember is it’s very difficult to differentiate covid from other respiratory viruses, like the flu, even the common cold. And potentially with this variant because it is quote, unquote milder.”

Dr. Stubblefield said ADPH monitors pediatric hospitalizations and they’ve seen a recent increase moving from single-digit cases to more than 30 current hospitalizations. He said kids with respiratory problems and those with other major medical conditions are the most vulnerable to COVID-19.