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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — This week’s Huntsville-Madison County-area COVID-19 update provided a not-so-good update ahead of the holidays. COVID cases are trending upward once again.

Huntsville-Madison EMA Director Jeff Birdwell, Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson, and Dr. Wes Stubblefield from the Alabama Department of Public Health spoke on the omicron variant and COVID-19 precautions ahead of holiday gatherings.

Hudson said Madison County hospitals are seeing increased volumes of patients – as of Wednesday, 49 inpatients were COVID-positive, with 16 in the ICU, and nine on ventilators.

And the increased volume isn’t just in Madison County – Hudson said there were 250 patients with COVID-19 hospitalized statewide a couple of weeks ago; that number climbed to 417 as of Wednesday.

Hudson stated early reports on the omicron variant do show that vaccinated people tend to get mild breakthrough cases, but the main concern of the omicron variant is that it is much more transmissible.

Hudson reiterated the best defense against the omicron variant is the same defense used early in the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Mask up indoors – Hudson suggested doubling up with a medical mask, covering that with a cloth mask; studies cited by Hudson suggest double masking reduces transmissiilbity by 90%
  • Social distance
  • Wash hands
  • Get vaccinated (preferably with Pfizer or Moderna) and boosted

Hudson explained – twice – that the CDC is once again recommending everyone mask up indoors, especially those partially vaccinated or unvaccinated.

The monoclonal antibody treatments that were previously used against all variants may not be as effective against the omicron variant, Hudson added.

Dr. Wes Stubblefield said the state is seeing triple the number of children hospitalized for COVID-19 than they were just a month ago.

Stubblefield also confirmed four cases of the omicron variant were in the state – three in the northern district (Marion, Winston, Cullman, Marshall, and Jackson Counties and all counties north to the Mississippi and Tennessee state lines).

And further data from the Alabama Department of Public Health shows either substantial or high transmission all across north Alabama.

With Pfizer’s COVID-19 pill approved Wednesday, just minutes before the briefing, Hudson and Stubblefield said it’s good news for helping treat the virus in its early stages, however, there was no timeline immediately given for distributing the pill to Alabamians.

Stubblefield also suggested rapid, at-home testing prior to gathering for the holidays, but only if somebody isn’t experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, worsening symptoms, or had been exposed. Stubblefield told those cases should see a healthcare provider.

For those testing at home – Stubblefied suggested waiting a few days after COVID-19 symptoms, if applicable, or testing each day for a couple days prior if non-symptomatic.

Both Hudson and Stubblefield recommended everyone eligible to get the flu vaccine and reconsider holiday travel plans.

Stubblefield cautioned that those over 65 and immunocompromised can get COVID-19 severe enough to warrant hospitalization even if they’re vaccinated.