Week CXLIX: County returns to ‘medium’ level, but XBB.1.5 knocks at the door

— Map from the CDC

Albany County has returned to a “medium” community level of COVID-19 while the level is high on Long Island, in New York City, and in the Mid-Hudson regions where the XBB.1.5 sublineage of the Omicron variant is rampant.

ALBANY COUNTY — It’s not over yet.

This week, on Jan. 11, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra extended the federal public health emergency first enacted on Jan. 30, 2020 — and extended 10 times since.

This 11th extension, which lasts 90 days, is “a result of the continued consequences of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)  pandemic,” the declaration says.

A policy from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which had been set to expire on Jan. 8, requiring foreign travelers to be “fully vaccinated” to enter the United States, has been extended until April 10, 2023 by the Transportation Security Administration.

The CDC this week returned Albany County to a “medium” community level of COVID-19 after just one week with a “high” designation.

All of the counties south of Albany, including neighboring Greene and Columbia counties through the Mid-Hudson area, and down to New York City and Long Island, are labeled “high.”

This tracks with the prevalence of the highly contagious XBB.1.5 sublineage of the Omicron variant.

The XBB.1.5 sublineage, first confirmed in New York State in October 2022, continues to be the dominant variant in New York, according to the state’s health department.

Able to spread more rapidly than other sublineages, XBB.1.5 has the highest rates in the New York City, Long Island, and the Mid-Hudson regions, the health department says, adding that these regions have also had the most elevated case rates in New York State since November 2022.

Nationwide, according to the CDC, the XBB.1.5 sublineage accounts for 43 percent of new cases between Jan. 8 and 14.  However, in Region 2 — New York, New Jersey,  Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands — XBB.1.5 makes up nearly 83 percent of new cases in that same time period.

While most of the counties in New York State are, like Albany and neighboring Rensselaer counties, labeled “medium,” a swath of counties north and west of Albany are labeled “low” along with three counties in the far west of the state along the Pennsylvania border.

Albany County had been designated “medium” for the three weeks prior to last week, 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, the numbers are also moving in the right direction after the bump up last week.

About 14 percent of countries nationwide are labeled “high,” down from 20 percent last week, while 38 percent are labeled “medium,” down from 42 percent last week, and 48 percent are called “low,” up from 38 percent last week.

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

— Albany County now has a case rate of about 120 per 100,000 of population, up from 107 last week and 79 two weeks ago and higher than all the case counts for the two months before that, including the high of 104 eight weeks ago;

— For the important COVID hospital admission rate, Albany County has a rate of 18 per 100,000, down from 22.2 last week but up from 16 two weeks ago and again up from the counts for the two preceding months; and

— Albany County now has 7.9 percent of its staffed hospital beds filled with COVID patients, up from 7.1 percent last week and 6.5 percent two weeks ago and again higher than all counts for the two months prior.

This week, Albany County’s 149th of dealing with COVID, three new COVID-related deaths were reported by the governor’s office: two were reported on Wednesday, Jan. 11, and one more was reported on Friday, Jan. 13. The county’s dashboard, as of Tuesday, Jan. 17, still shows a death toll of 614: 299 males and 315 females.

As of Jan. 17, according to Albany County’s COVID dashboard, 42 patients were hospitalized with COVID, down from 43 last week and 46 two weeks ago but still a dramatic jump from 36 three weeks ago, 30 four weeks ago, and 24 five weeks ago.

About 44 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 as well as statewide have decreased from last week.

Two weeks ago, 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 14.7 cases per 100,000 of population, down from last week’s 16.2 and 24.4 the week before but still higher than 12.4 three weeks ago, 12.0 four weeks ago, 10.9 five weeks ago, and 13.5 six weeks ago. The current rate is up from 8.6 seven weeks ago, 8.0 eight weeks ago, and 10.6 nine weeks ago, which was a fairly steady decrease from 21.8 cases per 100,000 twenty-one weeks ago.

This compares with 19.0 cases per 100,000 statewide, down from rates over the last month in the twenties following a fairly steady decrease from 30.03 per 100,000 of population 20 weeks ago.

The lowest rates are in the Southern Tier at 11.4 cases per 100,000, which is down from last week’s low of 13.1 cases per 100,000 in Western New York.

The highest count is in Mid-Hudson at 23.3 cases per 100,000 down dramatically from last week’s high on Long Island 32.2 per 100,000 of population.

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, 20.0 percent percent of Albany County residents were up to date on vaccines, a gradual increase from 17.9 five 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, 76.1 percent of county residents have completed a primary series, nearly the same as the last several weeks.

This compares with 76.3 percent of New Yorkers statewide completing a vaccination series, and 13.0 percent being up to date with vaccinations, up from 10.6 six 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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