'There's a Storm Coming': Alabama COVID Cases Up Again With Only 47 Percent Vaccinated

COVID hospitalizations have risen over 50 percent in the last month in Alabama, which has a 47 percent vaccination rate and the second-highest rate of deaths per 100,000 residents over the course of the pandemic.

Dr. Michael Saag, an infectious disease expert at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, called for Alabama residents to get vaccinated as cases continue to rise again in the state, as unvaccinated people are still the vast majority of hospitalized cases, according to the Associated Press.

Saag, who caught and recovered from COVID early in the pandemic, said the rise in cases the state is experiencing from the Omicron variant is like seeing a tornado on the horizon.

"There's a storm coming and we need to get in our safe place, and the safest place we can be is with vaccines," Saag said.

Hospitalizations have risen over 50 percent in the last month, from 250 in November to over 400 as of Monday, according to Dr. Scott Harris, head of the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Scott Harris, Alabama, COVID Cases, Vaccination
Alabama Department of Public Health Director Dr. Scott Harris discusses his state's vaccination data in his office on June 29, 2021, in Montgomery. COVID hospitalizations have risen over 50 percent in the last month, with 250 in November and over 400 as of December 20, 2021, according to Harris. Elijah Nouvelage/AFP via Getty Images

Although the state's health system is in far better condition than it was in August and September, when hospitals were all but full and officials feared the network was nearing the breaking point, numbers are slowly creeping upward, Harris said.

"We are a little concerned about how our numbers are trending," Harris said in a discussion held on Facebook live on Monday night by the Medical Association of the State of Alabama.

Harris called the current number of hospitalizations "very manageable" for a system that was treating about 3,000 pandemic patients daily in the fall.

"But still, a 25 percent increase over the last couple of weeks is a reason for concern," Harris said.

The new, fast-spreading Omicron variant has been confirmed in the state, but health officials don't believe it has overtaken the Delta strain yet. Omicron cases don't respond to monoclonal antibody treatments that have helped patients in recent months, posing a problem once the variant arrives in force, officials said.

Alabama schools reported 750 cases of COVID-19 this week, up about 25 percent from the 589 last week. The largest increases were in the large metropolitan areas around Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile and Montgomery plus rural Walker County, northwest of Birmingham.

With only about 47 percent of the state's population fully vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19, more than 16,350 people have died from the illness in Alabama, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins. The death toll is the 16th highest nationally and the second-highest per capita at almost 335 deaths per 100,000 people.

The rolling average of daily new cases in the state over the past two weeks has increased by 332, a jump of 66.6 percent, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. While there were about 197 new cases per 100,000 people in the state during the period, that ranks 50th nationwide.

Dr. Aruna Arora, president of the state medical organization, said doctors are nervous about what's going to happen to people who haven't been vaccinated and gotten boosters.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.