Living with COVID-19

Three years ago, no one could have predicted COVID would be coming and the unprecedented and profound harmful effects it would have on our society. This new virus has resulted in more deaths than births in Alabama for two consecutive years for the first time in the history of the state. COVID-19 has been the cause of death of more than 20,000 Alabamians.

We are pleased that there is now less risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death compared to earlier in the pandemic due to the many tools now available. These include vaccines for ages 6 months and older, boosters, treatments, high-quality masks, testing, and improved ventilation.

Public health strategies have now shifted from emergency response to disease management. As we enter this new phase, we know that the pandemic is not over, and it remains a concern as new variants emerge. People still need to make informed decisions about how to protect themselves and their families. The public is urged to consider individual risk by taking into account factors such as age, vaccination status, overall health, and ways to protect others as we live with this disease.

The single most important action an individual can take to prevent severe illness and hospitalization is to get vaccinated. Statistics show that even with the milder Omicron subvariants predominating, a comparison found that people were 22 times more likely to die with COVID-19 if they were unvaccinated. As we move into the fall, it is important for everyone to stay up to date with vaccinations, especially as new bivalent boosters are becoming available.

COVID-19 has some similarities with influenza, but flu is less contagious and the mortality rate from flu is much lower. Among the reasons flu is less deadly include the fact that flu strains can often be anticipated in advance because viruses are likely to be circulating in the southern hemisphere before reaching the United States. By getting annual flu shots, individuals can reduce their chances of acquiring severe disease. Both COVID-19 and influenza can result in severe illness and complications. Those at highest risk include older adults, people with certain underlying medication conditions (including children), and pregnant women. Please follow the time-tested advice that applies to COVID-19, influenza, and other contagious respiratory diseases. If you feel sick and have fever, stay home.

As we return to normal pre-COVID-19 routines, the virus remains and mutates. While immunity in Alabama’s population has increased considerably, both from vaccination and from past infection, immunity wanes in time. More than 2,000 cases of COVID-19 are reported each day in the state and there have been 3,300 deaths attributed to COVID-19 so far in 2022.

The situation will continue to evolve as more is learned about the virus. Fortunately, while COVID-19 can still be deadly, we now have new tools and increasing knowledge to manage and live with the virus.

Scott Harris, M.D., M.P.H.
State Health Officer