Virus Outbreak ICU Christmas

Nurse Jesse Phelps, left, works on a COVID-19 patient as a family member looks on at East Alabama Medical Center in the intensive care unit Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020, in Opelika, Ala. The medical center faces a new influx of COVID-19 patients as the pandemic intensifies.

As vaccines increase and the number of daily increases in COVID-19 cases decreases, the Alabama Department of Public Health is warning that one of several new variants of the virus has been found in Alabama.

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, "eight variant strain cases of the highly transmissible COVID-19 B.1.1.7 variant have been identified in Alabama residents, but only a couple of the cases had out-of-state travel prior to illness onset which indicates this variant strain is already circulating in Alabama."

The cases were found in Autauga, Jefferson, Madison, Mobile and Montgomery counties. Only a small number of labs in those counties are collecting specimens to check for variants, so, according to ADPH, "There is much yet to be determined about the variant’s spread." The variant was first identified in the United Kingdom.

Initial studies indicate that the vaccines are effective against the variant, but health officials say people should continue to take precautions against spreading the virus by wearing masks, washing hands, maintaining distance from others and staying home when sick.

That is the same advice Cullman Regional Medical Center (CRMC) officials are giving to the public, even as Cullman County's COVID-19 infection rate has come down. In the past week, the number of new cases daily has been in single digits.

"With the new variants of this disease, we must remain vigilant in order to prevent the spread," said CRMC Vice President of Communications and Marketing Lindsey Dossey.

As of Thursday, Cullman County had reported 152 new cases in the past two weeks. In December, there were days when the number of new infections per day was higher than that amount.

The hospital is currently treating 25 covid patients, four of whom are ventilators. Since the pandemic began almost a year ago, 171 Cullman County residents have reportedly died from the disease.

More than 1 million doses of the vaccine have been delivered to Alabama, and more than 685,000 Alabamians have received the first dose of the vaccine.

Amy Henderson can be reached at 256-734-2131 Ext. 216.

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