HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – The number of COVID patients in Alabama hospitals has more than doubled in the past month, but hospital officials say they are seeing fewer severe cases than they did at the beginning of the year.

However, hospital officials say the increase in patients is placing additional strain on overworked hospital workers.

“Between last summer and now, there was this mass exodus of people who left healthcare,” said Alabama Hospital Association President Don Williamson. “We’ve filled some of that with traveling staff, but that’s a temporary solution. We have fewer staff in hospitals today than we might have had in January of this year.”

More than 600 COVID-positive patients are currently in the Alabama hospital system, and doctors are basing the severity of those cases on ICU and ventilator use. Fewer than 100 of those patients are in the ICU, and fewer than 50 are on ventilators.

Huntsville Hospital President Tracy Doughty said local hospitals may have to ask staff to work extra shifts if the caseload increases.

“Our staff is great,” Doughty said. “They are community advocates and they will step up and work extra shifts if that’s what it takes to protect our community.”

Williamson said several factors are contributing to the decrease in case severity, including vaccines.

“While vaccines and prior disease do not guarantee that you won’t get infected, they still do a remarkable job of keeping you out of the hospital and keeping you from dying,” Williamson said.

Doctors also have more tools on hand to treat COVID. Drugs like Paxlovid are proving effective treatments.

“We are in a very different place I think now than we were with Delta,” Williamson said. “We have better antivirals, we have monoclonal antibodies, and we have a virus that seems to not be as deadly as the Delta variant.”

Williamson said Paxlovid is about 90% effective at keeping people out of the hospital, but it and other treatments are most effective if COVID is caught early. Williamson recommended getting tested and consulting with your doctor as soon as COVID symptoms, like a sore throat, are present.