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The less severe strand of coronavirus, Omicron, continues to spread as Americans settle back in from the Christmas holiday. According to the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH), 34,968 Alabamians have tested positive for the Omicron variant of the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). This is up dramatically from early December.

Omicron is the most contagious variant seen yet. The good news is that it does not appear to have as many severe cases as Delta and the earlier variants had. Unfortunately, it appears the COVID-19 vaccine is less effective on Omicron than the other variants. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said even a fully vaccinated and boosted individual can still get and transmit the Omicron variant, though a healthy person who is fully vaccinated.

According to early numbers out of Great Britain, the vaccine is only about 35% effective against the Omicron variant, but that jumps to 75% effective if the vaccinated person has taken a booster shot. 2,722,869 out of 5.024,269 Alabamians have gotten the vaccine. 2,218,757 of those are fully vaccinated and of those, 574,203 have received a COVID-19 booster shot.

As of press time, over 2,700 flights nationally have been canceled due to the airlines not having enough healthy personnel to get the planes in the sky, causing travel nightmares for millions of Americans. Hospitalizations are climbing rapidly. ADPH reports that 994 Alabamians spent New Year's Eve hospitalized due to COVID-19 complications. This is up from 271 on Nov. 25. The state has experienced three COVID-19 surges prior to this recent uptick in cases. On Aug. 29, 2,987 Alabamians were hospitalized during the most recent surge in cases.

ADPH suggests that everyone, whether they were vaccinated or not, wear masks or cloth face coverings whenever they go out among the public. Do not go to work or school if you are feeling any symptoms at all. According to the latest CDC guidance, a person who has tested positive for the coronavirus must isolate themselves for 5 days (this is down from the previous recommendation from ten days).

The CDC recommends people wash their hands frequently, avoid shaking hands or hugging anyone who is not in your household, use hand sanitizer, and try to avoid crowds as much as possible. The COVID-19 vaccine is free and is widely available across the state at most pharmacies and medical providers. Two new antiviral pills have been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration for use in treating COVID-19. Two monoclonal antibody treatments have been suspended recently because they were proving ineffective against the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

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