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Health officers: COVID a virus ‘we have to live with’

HUNTSVILLE — There was measured optimism Wednesday at a COVID-19 update hosted by the Madison County Emergency Management Agency.

Dr. Robert Chappell, the Huntsville Hospital System’s chief medical officer, brought a positive spin with news about a new vaccine.

“We have a vaccine that matches up with a virus,” he said. “That’s exciting … it’s an ‘old school’ vaccine for those who want a primary vaccination.”

Dr. Wes Stubblefield, the district medical official for the Alabama Department of Public Health, said a new strain of the COVID virus is evolving.

The new COVID-19 boosters are reformulated to protect against omicron subvariants. The bivalent vaccines target the BA.4 and highly contagious BA.5 omicron subvariants and the original strain of COVID-19. The BA.5 subvariant currently makes up about 90% of cases nationally.

The Food and Drug Administration authorized the boosters last week and they are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. The FDA said the Moderna COVID-19 bivalent vaccine is authorized for use as a single booster for people 18 years of age and older. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 bivalent vaccine is authorized for use as a single booster for people 12 years of age and older.

“We’re not out of the woods, yet,” Stubblefield said. “We should think about it like the flu and get our vaccines.”

The numbers of those infected with the virus have plummeted with just 70 COVID positive patients in the Huntsville Hospital system, according to Tracy Doughty, the system’s president and COO.

“There are eight patients in ICU,” he said. “COVID is still around.”

According to the latest reports from the state health department, Alabama’s average positivity rate is about 21%.

In the last seven days there were 49 positive tests in Jackson County, 275 in Limestone County, 136 in Lauderdale County, 66 in Lawrence County, 667 in Madison County, 156 in Marshall County, and 289 in Morgan County. Nearly 600 people have died this year of COVID in those seven counties – 212 in Madison County, alone.

Doughty said it was good to see people getting out to eat, going to football games and concerts. But he emphasized that people need to also take precautions.

“It helps our mental health to have these outlets,” he said. “But, if you’re sick, don’t go out.

“This is a virus we have to live with.”

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