Week XCVIII: New COVID cases in county plummet, hospitalizations haven’t yet

— From the New York State Health Department

Even with the Omicron surge, vaccination has remained effective. The red line, at bottom, shows the COVID-19 diagnoses per 100,000 vaccinated New Yorkers while the blue line, in the middle, shows the COVID-19 diagnoses per 100,000 unvaccinated New Yorkers. The gray line, at top, tracks vaccine effectiveness, which has declined over time.

ALBANY COUNTY — Albany County is now seeing the dramatic drop in new COVID cases that downstate started experiencing a week ago.

The county appears to have reached its high of new cases reported in a single day on Jan. 13 with 1,586 positive cases. Daily counts reported this week were all well under 500.

On Wednesday morning, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy reported 320 new cases. The seven-day average is now down to 415.4.

Albany County currently has a seven-day average of 105 COVID cases per 100,000 in population and an average infection rate of 11.8 percent.

Graphs on the county’s website show the surge this January, with the Omicron variant still making up 95 percent of the cases statewide, was about three times higher than the surge last January, but, at the same time, another graph shows hospitalizations with COVID-related cases were about three-quarters the number in January 2020.

Hospitalization surges typically lag about a week behind infection surges so the county’s hospitalizations, while they may be leveling, have not yet plunged like the infection rate.

“The number of new hospitalizations each day has been in double digits all month,” McCoy said in his daily COVID press release on Sunday.

On Wednesday morning, he reported 11 new hospitalizations with 105 county residents with COVID-19 in the hospital, 16 of them in intensive-care units. McCoy noted on Wednesday that hospitalization is at its lowest level since Jan. 7.

Deaths from COVID-19 lag behind hospitalizations. This week, Albany County’s 98th of coping with the coronavirus, six more residents died of COVID-19: a man in his teens, a man in his fifties, three men in their sixties, and a woman in her eighties.

This brings the county’s COVID-19 death toll to 499.

Statewide, the highest point for new COVID infections was on Jan. 7 with 90,000 cases. On Tuesday, new cases were under 13,000. 

Governor Kathy Hochul, at a press conference Tuesday afternoon at the state fairgrounds in Syracuse, termed the 86 percent drop in two-and-a-half weeks “extraordinary.” She said, “All the regions are declining.”

Hochul displayed a graph charting last year’s lesser surge with this year’s Omicron surge noting upticks at Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and for the Super Bowl.

“It doesn’t have to be our destiny,” she said, noting that vaccine is now widely available.

In addition to pushing vaccination, Hochul also pushed testing. “We want people tested,” she said.

Hospitalizations statewide peaked two weeks ago with almost 13,000 New Yorkers hospitalized with COVID-19, Hochul said. “Now we’re down to 9,800, so it’s still high,” said Hochul, noting the 25 percent drop.

She also noted that statewide, “Almost half of our COVID cases in a hospital are not there because they’re sick from COVID …. They just happened to be positive when they were admitted.”

While originally 47 hospitals were required to stop elective surgery because their staffed bed capacity was under 10 percent, now 32 hospitals are in that situation, Hochul said.



Hochul said New York has ordered more testing kits than any other state: 85 million. She wants to make sure kids stay in school, she said, stating that having students exposed to the virus quarantine for 10 days was almost as disruptive as remote learning during the last school year.

She announced that, as schools approach their winter breaks, every child will have a test kit sent home with them before the break so, if they’re exposed during the break, “they don’t go back to school if they test positive,” said Hochul.

Hochul also said she was surprised and disappointed that only 26 percent of children in the 5- to 11-year-old age group are vaccinated. “Hundreds of thousands of kids have now been vaccinated,” she said. “It is safe.”

By comparison, close to 69 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds are fully vaccinated while more than 84 percent of adult New Yorkers are fully vaccinated.

In Albany County, 80.1 percent of all residents have received at least a first dose of vaccine and 72.7 percent are fully vaccinated. The first-shot vaccination rate for county residents 18 and older is 88.8 percent.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week updated its terminology for defining vaccination status: “Up to date” means a person has received all recommended COVID-19 vaccines, including any booster doses when eligible while “fully vaccinated” still means a person has received their primary series of COVID-19 vaccines.

Hochul on Tuesday reported that just 5.7 million New Yorkers have gotten booster shots and encouraged more to do so. In the Capital Region, 420,696 residents have gotten booster shots.

According to the state’s school COVID-19 Report Card, as of Jan. 24, the Guilderland schools, with about 4,800 students, had 1,158 cases this school year, more than double the 467 cases on Jan. 4, which was a jump over the pre-vacation Dec. 23 number of 293 confirmed cases. Student cases remained the vast majority with 963 reported compared to 105 for staff and 90 for teachers.

Voorheesville, with about 1,200 students, has had 235 cases this school year, a marked increase from 136 on Jan. 4, which was a jump of 56 from Dec. 23 about a month ago. Students make up 235 cases while staff account for 21 cases and teachers for 22 cases.

Berne-Knox-Westerlo, with about 780 students, has had 215 cases, swelling from 133 cases on Jan. 4 — an increase of 24 from Dec. 23 a month ago. Students made up 165 of the cases while staff accounts for 24 and teachers for 26 cases.


Nursing homes

Hochul on Tuesday said that the state has deployed 2.2 million test kits to nursing homes and other congregate settings. Additionally, she said, 200,000 more tests are coming this week.

“These people are vulnerable,” she said of nursing-home residents. “They have individuals coming from the outside,” Hochul said, referring to both workers and visitors.

With the new protocols for testing visitors, Hochul said, nursing-home COVID cases statewide are now down 30 percent.

At a press conference on Long Island last Friday, Hochul announced more National Guard members are being deployed to nursing homes. “We saw the incredible vulnerability of our nursing homes when the original COVID-19 hit; it just went through nursing homes like wildfire, and we have kept a close eye on our nursing homes to make sure that they had plenty of test kits,” said Hochul.

Also, vaccinations are required of nursing-home workers. “And now we’re realizing that the staff are exhausted,” said Hochul.

Originally, 120 medically trained National Guard members were sent to nursing homes and now 88 nonmedical members are being deployed, Hochul said.

Albany County’s nursing home is one of the places National Guard members were sent.


Job growth

The state’s labor department on Friday released preliminary figures showing private-sector jobs increased over the month of December by 45,400, or 0.6 percent, to 7,667,400.

By comparison, the number of private-sector jobs in the United State increased by 0.2 percent in December 2021.

New York State’s private sector jobs (not seasonally adjusted) increased by 383,300, or 5.2 percent, over the year in December 2021. By comparison, the number of private sector jobs in the U.S. increased by 5.1 percent over the year.

So, at the same time, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased from 6.6 percent to 6.2 percent in December 2021.

New York City’s unemployment rate decreased over the month from 9.0 percent to 8.8 percent. Outside of New York City, the unemployment rate decreased from 4.8 percent to 4.3 percent.

The Albany-Schenectady-Troy area saw a 2.6 percent increase in non-farm jobs.

The industry that saw the biggest job growth, of 29.1 percent, was leisure and hospitality, followed by professional and business services at 6.7 percent, and then by trade, transportation, and utilities at 4 percent.

The only sectors to lose jobs were finance, down 1.4 percent, and construction, down 3.8 percent.


Vax vs. previous infection

 A recent study of data from May to November 2021 in New York State and California coronavirus cases found that, by early October, people who had survived an earlier infection had lower case rates than people who were vaccinated only.

In that May to November time period, the data showed, case and hospitalization rates were highest among unvaccinated people without a previous diagnosis. Before Delta became the predominant variant in June, case rates were higher among people who survived a previous infection than people who were vaccinated alone.

The study was published last Wednesday as part of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly report, which noted, “Data are limited regarding the risks for SARS-CoV-2 infection and hospitalization after COVID-19 vaccination and previous infection.”

One of the study’s authors is New York’s acting health commissioner, Mary T. Bassett, M.D. The study was conducted before the Omicron variant emerged.

“Similar data accounting for booster doses and as new variants, including Omicron, circulate will need to be assessed,” the study says. “The understanding and epidemiology of COVID-19 has shifted substantially over time with the emergence and circulation of new SARS-CoV-2 variants, introduction of vaccines, and changing immunity as a result.”

Two previous United States studies found more protection from vaccination than from previous infection during periods before Delta predominance just as with the early period of the recently-released New York-California study. Also, as in the present study after July, recent international studies have shown increased protection in people with previous infection, with or without vaccination, relative to vaccination alone.

“Across the entire study period,” the recently released study concludes, “persons with vaccine- and infection-derived immunity had much lower rates of hospitalization compared with those in unvaccinated persons.

“These results suggest that vaccination protects against COVID-19 and related hospitalization and that surviving a previous infection protects against a reinfection.

“Importantly, infection-derived protection was greater after the highly transmissible Delta variant became predominant, coinciding with early declining of vaccine-induced immunity in many persons.”

The CDC had this to say about the implications of the report for public-health practice: “Although the epidemiology of COVID-19 might change as new variants emerge, vaccination remains the safest strategy for averting future SARS-CoV-2 infections, hospitalizations, long-term sequelae, and death. Primary vaccination, additional doses, and booster doses are recommended for all eligible persons. Additional future recommendations for vaccine doses might be warranted as the virus and immunity levels change.”


Breakthrough cases

When a fully-vaccinated person contracts COVID-19, it is termed a breakthrough case. The state’s health department has now updated its report on breakthrough cases based on data received through Jan. 17 and found:

— 1,023,704 laboratory-confirmed breakthrough cases of COVID-19 among fully-vaccinated people in New York State, which corresponds to 7.7 percent of the population of fully-vaccinated people 12 years or older; and

— 30,005 hospitalizations with COVID-19 among fully-vaccinated people in New York State, which corresponds to 0.23 percent of the population of fully-vaccinated people 12 years or older.

“These results indicate that laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infections and hospitalizations with COVID-19 have been uncommon events among the population of people who are fully-vaccinated,” the report says.

More than a quarter of Albany County residents are not fully vaccinated.

The health-department data also shows vaccine effectiveness declining over time.

For the week of May 3, 2021, the estimated vaccine effectiveness shows fully-vaccinated New Yorkers had a 92.6 percent lower chance of becoming a COVID-19 case, compared to unvaccinated New Yorkers, the health department says.

Although this effectiveness measure declined through mid-July, this decline then plateaued at about 80 percent after the Delta variant became predominant.

Beginning the week of Dec. 13, 2021, after the emergence of the Omicron variant, vaccine effectiveness against cases began to decline again. In the most recent week, vaccine effectiveness was 77.8 percent. This means fully-vaccinated New Yorkers had about a 78 percent lower chance of becoming a COVID-19 case, compared to unvaccinated New Yorkers, the health department says.

However, when it comes to hospitalizations, the vaccine is doing its job. Across the time period of analysis, fully-vaccinated New Yorkers had between a 90.8 percent and 97.5 percent lower chance of being hospitalized with COVID-19, compared to unvaccinated New Yorkers, the health department says.

The department advises: “Because vaccines do not offer 100% protection, additional protective measures, such as mask wearing, and social distancing will provide additional protection.”

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