The COVID-19 fueled pandemic will continue into the fall. The good news, doctors say, is that current vaccines also continue to protect against the disease's worst outcomes.Alabama is currently fifth …
The COVID-19 fueled pandemic will continue into the fall. The good news, doctors say, is that current vaccines also continue to protect against the disease's worst outcomes.
Alabama is currently fifth in the nation for having the highest number of COVID-19 cases per capita. Baldwin County has been included in the high-risk category for weeks.
Those numbers, however, are not translating to hospital stays or deaths, a statistic that medical professionals say show the vaccines are working and holding steady. Last week hospitalizations in the state peaked at 850, a huge drop from the surge of over 3,000 hospitalized in Alabama during the summer peak of 2021.
Across the United States an average of 393 people die each day from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Hospitalizations across the nation have also fallen to roughly 6,120 each day.
"We are still not seeing the surge in hospitalization associated with previous waves," said Jeanne Marrazzo, M.D., director of the Division of Infectious Diseases in the University of Alabama
Who is sick?
Marrazzo said it is likely most people know someone who has managed to avoid the virus until this summer. It is also likely that we all feel like we know someone right now with the virus.
That is, she said, because BA.5 is the most infectious variation of the disease to date.
"It seems like cases are coming at us thick and fast. We are seeing cases in people who managed to avoid clinical symptoms throughout the whole pandemic," she said.
Marrazzo added that it is possible to continue to avoid contracting the disease with the use of quality masks, diligence and consistently wearing masks. Those trying to avoid the disease need to consider how close they are standing to other individuals, especially when inside, before they remove the mask.
"All of those things have come back into play when you are considering the risk," she said.
Should children wear masks in school?
The short answer is yes.
Though David Kimberlin, M.D., co-director of UAB and Children's of Alabama's Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases acknowledged that would not happen in most schools across the state as children return to the classroom this week.
"Schools are not isolated from the community. What happens in the community will impact the school. The recommendations in the community should be the recommendation in the schools as well," he said.
Currently all Alabama counties are in the high-risk categories of orange and red. Kimberlin said this means everyone should wear a mask indoors and that recommendation includes the schools.
"This is just the reality right now and it is what we should do until we drop back down to yellow and hopefully green," Kimberlin said.
He added that over the past three years data shows that schools are not an epicenter of community spread, which makes him more confident that numbers will not swell after the school year begins this week. Still, he encourages mask wearing in classrooms.
"I'm more confident as we approach the next school year even when most school systems are not requiring masks. That's not what I advocate but that's the reality," he said.
COVID-19 is here to stay. We will have to learn to live with it.
"This is our third August dealing with the virus. Would I put money on the fact there won't be a fourth? Probably not," Kimberlin said. "The virus is with us and will stay with us. Therefore, we need to redouble our efforts to figure out how to live with the virus. That doesn't mean ignore it."
Part of that effort means adjusting the vaccine to fight the newest variant of COVID-19. Currently the BA.5 variant is the cause of over 85 percent of sickness, Marrazzo said. Over time those variants adapt, evolve and become better at resisting the vaccines.
While the current vaccine may not prevent infection, it is preventing severe disease and hospitalizations. Patients are largely suffering from the classic symptoms of sore throat, fever and chills. Less people are experiencing the more severe symptoms and the previous tell-tale sign of a loss of taste and smell.
Baldwin County's vaccination rate is far above the national average. The CDC reports that 65.5% of the county's total population has received at least one vaccination shot. Nationally only 34.4% of people above age five has taken the first shot.
However, only 37.4% of those fully vaccinated people in Baldwin County have received their first booster shot.