COVID-19 cases in Alabama are soaring this month and the FDA has halted some treatments, saying they aren’t going to work against the latest variant. The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) on Wednesday reported that 278 Alabamians have died with COVID-19 so far in January, taking the state’s death toll in the global pandemic up to 16,948. That is higher than the total population of 16 of Alabama’s counties.

In Alabama, January has seen higher rates of COVID infections than any other month in the 22 months that Alabama has experienced during the pandemic. Some 45,237 Alabamians were diagnosed with the coronavirus in just the last week. Some 42.9% of the coronavirus tests given in Alabama in the last week came back positive – an extremely high positivity rate.

ADPH reports that 2,922 Alabamians were hospitalized with COVID-19 complications on Wednesday. That is very close to the record high of 3,081 set on Jan. 5, 2021. COVID hospitalizations are up 39.3% in just the last two weeks. New COVID-19 hospitalizations began increasing on Dec. 26 as the Omicron variant was spreading across Alabama.

January has seen the highest rates of new diagnosis seen in the state to this point in the pandemic and hospitals are very near their highest hospitalization rates. Older Alabamians should be especially cautious about avoiding infection. Almost two-thirds of Alabama’s COVID death toll has been in Alabamians aged 65 and above.

- 43.8% of Alabama’s COVID deaths were in persons aged 75 or older.

- 22.5% of the COVID deaths in Alabama were in people aged 65 to 74.

- 23.8% of the deaths were in persons aged 50 to 64.

- 9.4% of the deaths have been in Alabamians aged 25 to 49.

- .3% of the state's deaths have been in Alabamians aged 18 to 24.

- 0.0% of the state’s deaths have been in children aged 12 to 17.

- .3% of the deaths have been in children aged 5 to 11.

- 0.0% of the deaths have been in children aged 0 to 4.

Doctors now have even more limited options for treating COVID-19. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Monday restricted the use of two monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19. The FDA said that the therapies made by Eli Lilly and Regeneron should only be used in patients who have been infected with or exposed to a variant that is susceptible to the treatments.  

"Because data show these treatments are highly unlikely to be active against the Omicron variant, which is circulating at a very high frequency throughout the United States, these treatments are not authorized for use in any U.S. states, territories, and jurisdictions at this time," the FDA said in a statement. 

The agency did not revoke emergency authorization and said it does want to be able to use the drugs again if there is a new variant upon which the medication is more effective.

Schools have been especially hard hit with infections. The Alabama school systems are reporting 26,260 cases this week – that is more than half of the total cases in the state. Some schools are having to switch to remote learning, but the school systems are trying hard to avoid the long periods without hands-on learning that the state experienced in the first two years of the pandemic. Even President Joseph R. Biden (D) is urging schools to stay open.

As for treatments, the antibodies now most recommended are sotrovimab, from GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology. There are also two new antiviral drugs given emergency approval to treat COVID-19: Pfizer's antiviral drug Paxlovid and Merck’s molnupiravir. The administration is rationing both of them, so most doctors are not able to obtain them at this time. Earlier treatments, hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, have also been declared ineffective and many doctors can’t prescribe them.

On Wednesday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) at an event in Montgomery said that she has been vaccinated and received the booster and urged all Alabamians to get the vaccine.

According to ADPH, of Alabama’s 5.02 million people, only 2,274,934 are fully vaccinated and just 707,936 have received the booster.

COVID-19 is the medical condition caused by the SARS-C0V-2 strain of the coronavirus. COVID-19 was first identified in late 2019 in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. Some 898,680 Americans have already died in the global pandemic. Most people have become tired of reading about the coronavirus, but with 3,575,071 more people diagnosed with the coronavirus globally just yesterday this pandemic does not show any sign of ending any time soon.

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