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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Huntsville City leaders gave an update on the current COVID-19 status for the city and county from the first floor chambers of Huntsville City Hall.

Jeff Birdwell, Huntsville-Madison County EMA Director, Tracy Doughty, Huntsville Hospital President & Chief Operating Officer, and Dr. Karen Landers, Alabama Department of Public Health District Medical Officer spoke at the briefing.

Huntsville-Madison County EMA Director Jeff Birdwell began the meeting with the latest COVID-19 numbers. There have been 850,096 cases of COVID-19 in the state of Alabama. 53,666 of those cases were in Madison County, resulting in 739 deaths during the pandemic. Madison County’s case positivity rate has risen to 5.9%.

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients is beginning to rise at Huntsville Hospital. President Tracy Doughty says he expected to see more patients during the holiday season.

On Wednesday, there were 47 COVID-19 patients in Madison County. He said this is much better than their peak number of 216 in mid-September.

Wednesday, health leaders also shared the latest information available about the Omicron variant and how the community can slow the spread. They say when it comes to Omicron being found in Alabama, it’s not a matter of if it will be detected, but when.

They shared what they know about the variant.

“Seems like it spreads more rapidly. People aren’t seeing as much of a loss of taste and smell as we are with the current variant, what we’re reading. Seems like there are more pediatric hospitalizations,” Doughty said.

Huntsville Hospital’s president says there are still questions about how well vaccines and treatments will work on the omicron variant.

“Too early to tell from what I’m reading and hearing that the vaccines are effective or not. Can’t really tell that now,” Doughty explained.

But here’s what he does know. The Delta variant caused a deadly surge in Alabama and that variant is still circulating in the state.

“80 percent of our patients are unvaccinated that are in the hospital, and we’ve had five deaths since this Saturday,” Doughty stated.

Doctors with the Alabama Department of Public Health continue to urge people to get vaccinated.

“I want you to get vaccinated for yourself, first and foremost. I want you to get vaccinated for your family. And your loved ones. The vaccine will help us control this pandemic,” said ADPH Spokesperson Dr. Karen Landers.

The holiday season means travel for a lot of people. Health leaders remind people mask-wearing, social distancing, and handwashing work to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

“We’ve seen a creep up in our numbers,” said Doughty. “We expected some of that from the holidays, but we will continue to watch those trends.”

Health leaders also recommend getting tested for the virus five days after arriving home from a trip.