Week CXLVIII: Albany County once again has a ‘high’ community level of COVID

— Graph from the CDC
Nationwide, hospitalizations have risen 17 percent in the last week, according to the CDC. People 70 and older continue to have the highest rates of hospitalization.

ALBANY COUNTY — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week has designated Albany County as having a “high” community level of COVID-19.

This means masks are to be worn indoors in public.

Albany County had been designated “medium” for the three weeks prior, which followed two weeks of a “low” designation. That was preceded by four weeks of being labeled “medium” after 13 weeks of being labeled “high.”

Nationwide this week, about 20 percent of counties are labeled “high” — an increase of 10-percent over last week — while 38 percent are labeled “low” — a decrease of about 11 percent. Roughly 42 percent still have a “medium” designation.

The weekly metrics the CDC used to determine the current “high” level for Albany County are:

— Albany County now has a case rate of about 107 per 100,000 of population, up from 79 last week and higher than all the case counts for the last two months including the high of 104 eight weeks ago;

— The county has a COVID hospital admission rate of 22.2 per 100,000, up from 16 last week and again up from the counts for the last two months; and

— Albany County now has 7.1 percent of its staffed hospital beds filled with COVID patients, up from 6.5 percent last week and again higher than all counts for the last two months.

At the same time, New York State’s health department’s weekly flu surveillance report shows influenza remains widespread throughout the state for the 13th week in a row but confirmed cases have dropped 41 percent while hospitalizations are down 7 percent from the week before.

However, there were 43 outbreaks in acute-care and long-term care facilities, the report said, and there was one additional pediatric death, putting the total at six statewide.

In Albany County, for the week ending Dec. 31, the report shows 263 laboratory-confirmed influenza cases reported to the health department.



The rapidly spreading sublineage of Omicron XBB.1.5 continues to be dominant in New York State.

The state’s health department reports that, between Dec. 18 and 31, the Omicron variant made up 98 percent of the cases statewide, including about 52 percent being XBB.1.5, about 16 percent being BQ.1.1, about 11 percent being BQ.1, about 8 percent being XBB, and about 6 percent each being BA.2 and BA.5.

As The Enterprise reported last week, XBB.1.5 appears to be better at binding with other cells than previous sublineages have, and some researchers are concerned that it could cause more breakthrough infections.

Nationwide, hospitalizations have risen 17 percent in the last week, according to the CDC.

Ashish Kumar Jha, the doctor serving as the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, in a tweet on Wednesday, Jan. 4, spelled out the basics Americans should be aware of regarding the XBB.1.5 sublineage.

“Over the holidays, you may have heard about Omicron XBB.1.5,” Jha wrote. “It went from 4% of sequences to 40% in just a few weeks. That’s a stunning increase.”

While Jha said he is “concerned” about XBB.1.5, it can be managed “if we all do our part.”

Jha said that any new variant or subvariant raises three key questions and then went on to list and answer those questions:

— 1. Is it more immune evasive? Probably yes, more than other Omicron variants;

— 2. Is it more inherently contagious? Maybe. It binds more tightly to the human ACE receptor and so might affect contagiousness;

— 3. Is it more virulent/dangerous? We don’t know so, of course, the big question is: How much protection do vaccines or recent infections offer?

What we currently know, Jha wrote, is, if you had an infection before July or your last vaccine was before the bivalent update in September, your protection against an XBB.1.5 infection is “probably not that great.”

He went on, “We will soon have more data on how well vaccines neutralize XBB.1.5. But right now, for folks without a very recent infection or a bivalent vaccine, you likely have very little protection against infection and for older folks, diminishing protection against serious illness.”

Jha stressed that the new bivalent shot is the best protection against both infection and serious illness.

Another question Jha raised is: How well do our tests work for XBB.1.5? “All the evidence says that they should work just fine,” he said.

And finally he asked: How well do our treatments work? Jha said that Paxlovid and Molnupiravir, the oral pills, “should work fine based on what we know.

“So what does this mean for the weeks ahead? Whether we’ll have an XBB.1.5 wave (and if yes, how big) will depend on many factors including immunity of the population, people’s actions, etc.”

Jha listed these steps that people should follow to minimize risk:

— 1. Make sure you are up to date on the bivalent booster, which he said is critical;

— 2. Test before large gatherings or before seeing someone vulnerable;

— 3. Wear a high-quality mask in crowded indoor spaces;

— 4. Work to improve ventilation/filtration in indoor spaces;

— 5. If you have symptoms: Test right away and avoid hanging out with high-risk folks; and

— 6. If you do get COVID — immediately get evaluated for treatments. “They are lifesavers,” Jha said.

Jha concluded by listing the steps the federal government has taken:

— 1. Tracking XBB.1.5 and other variants closely;

— 2. Providing easy access to updated COVID-19 vaccines. “Remember, they’re still free!” he wrote;

— 3. Providing free, high quality masks through pharmacies, food banks, etc.;

— 4. Providing free tests (http://covidtest.gov) and making free tests available through food banks, community health centers, schools, and more;

— 5. Providing support for schools and businesses to improve ventilation and filtration in buildings; and

— 6. Ensuring access to free treatments.

“Together,” Jha concluded, “we can keep the disruption of XBB.1.5 to a minimum. If more people get the updated vaccine and people who are at elevated risk get treated, we can prevent most cases of serious illness and save lives.”


Albany County COVID numbers

This week, Albany County’s 148th of dealing with COVID, three new COVID-related deaths were reported by the governor’s office: one was reported on Wednesday, Jan. 4, and two more were reported on Monday, Jan. 9. The county’s dashboard, as of Tuesday, Jan. 10, still shows a death toll of 611: 297 males and 314 females.

As of Jan. 10, according to Albany County’s COVID dashboard, 43 patients were hospitalized with COVID, down from 46 last week but still a dramatic jump from 36 two weeks ago, 30 three weeks ago, and 24 four weeks ago.

About 38 percent of the Capital Region residents hospitalized with COVID this week were not admitted because of having the virus, according to a chart from the governor’s office.

Although figures on infection rates are no longer reliable since tracing and tracking systems have been disbanded, the state dashboard shows that cases in Albany County decreased from a dramatic jump last week while statewide case rates stayed about the same.

Last week, rates for both the state and county had jumped after having leveled off in November following two months of climbing.

Albany County, as a seven-day average, now has 16.2 cases per 100,000 of population, down from last week’s 24.4 but still higher than 12.4 two weeks ago, 12.0 three weeks ago, 10.9 four weeks ago, and 13.5 five weeks ago. The current rate is up substantially from 8.6 six weeks ago, 8.0 seven weeks ago, 10.6 eight weeks ago, and 15.2 nine weeks ago, which was a fairly steady decrease from 21.8 cases per 100,000 twenty weeks ago.

This compares with 24.5 cases per 100,000 statewide, which is nearly identical to last week’s 24.4 but down from 25.8 two weeks ago, 28.3 three weeks, 27.8 four weeks ago, and 28.5 five weeks ago although up from 18.4 six weeks ago, 19.0 seven weeks ago, 18.8 eight weeks ago, and 20.9 nine weeks ago, which was another fairly steady decrease from and from 30.03 per 100,000 of population 19 weeks ago.

The lowest rates are in Western New York at 13.1 cases per 100,000, which is up from 11.3 cases per 100,000 last week in Western New York.

The highest count is still on Long Island at 32.2, which is down from last week’s 37.3, and from 40.9 two weeks ago and 44.7 three weeks ago, which was a dramatic jump from 23.93 five weeks before — all on Long Island.

The numbers for vaccination in Albany County have hardly budged for several months. The state’s dashboard now reports on these two categories:

— People with a primary series, for those who have completed the recommended initial series of a given COVID-19 vaccine product — two doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine; and

— People who are up to date, for those who have completed all COVID-19 vaccinations, including the bivalent booster, as appropriate per age and clinical recommendations.

As of Tuesday, 19.7 percent percent of Albany County residents were up to date on vaccines, up from 17.9 four weeks ago, as opposed to the 61.5 percent of eligible residents who had received booster shots, as reported in prior weeks.

At the same time, 76 percent of county residents have completed a primary series, the same as the last several weeks.

This compares with 76.3 percent of New Yorkers statewide completing a vaccination series, and 12.7 percent being up to date with vaccinations, up from 10.6 five weeks ago.

New Yorkers are being encouraged by the state’s health department to get bivalent COVID-19 vaccine boosters from Pfizer-BioNTech for anyone age 5 or older and from Moderna for those 6 or older.

To schedule an appointment for a booster, New Yorkers are to contact their local pharmacy, county health department, or healthcare provider; visit vaccines.gov; text their ZIP code to 438829, or call 1-800-232-0233 to find nearby locations.

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