Week CLI: Biden spurred to lift COVID health emergencies by May 11

— Graph from The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation

Daily deaths is the best indicator of the progression of the pandemic, although there is generally a lag of 17 to 21 days between infection and deaths, according to The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

ALBANY COUNTY — While daily deaths related to COVID-19 nationwide are now in the 500s — Albany County suffered four fatalities this week — Republicans in the House of Representatives pushed for ending federal emergencies, resulting in the Biden administration announcing on Monday that federal declarations of emergency will end on May 11.

In 2020, the Trump administration declared COVID-19 a national emergency, set to expire March 1,  and a public health emergency, set to expire April 11. Each had been extended multiple times.

The Biden administration plans to end both on May 11 and said in a statement that the wind-down would align with the administration’s previous commitments to give at least 60 days’ notice before ending the public health emergency.

“To be clear,” the statement says, “continuation of these emergency declarations until May 11 does not impose any restriction at all on individual conduct with regard to COVID-19. They do not impose mask mandates or vaccine mandates. They do not restrict school or business operations. They do not require the use of any medicines or tests in response to cases of COVID-19.”

However, the White House went on to say that the two bills proposed by the House Republicans — H.R. 382 and H.J. Res. 7 — abruptly ending the emergency declarations “would have two highly significant impacts on our nation’s health system and government operations.” One would create uncertainty in health care and the other would create a surge of immigrants, the statement says.

On the first point, the White House predicted “wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty throughout the health care system — for states, for hospitals and doctors’ offices, and, most importantly, for tens of millions of Americans.” 

During the public health emergency, Medicaid had special rules, providing extra funds to states so that more Americans could keep their coverage. Congress enacted a wind-down of the rules in December.

The White House also argued that nursing homes and hospitals have relied on flexibility provided by the emergency declarations and need time to retain staff and develop new billing procedures.

“Finally,” the White House stated, concluding the first point, “millions of patients, including many of our nation’s veterans, who rely on telehealth would suddenly be unable to access critical clinical services and medications. The most acutely impacted would be individuals with behavioral health needs and rural patients.”

On the second point, the White House states, “The end of the public health emergency will end the Title 42 policy at the border. While the Administration has attempted to terminate the Title 42 policy and continues to support an orderly lifting of those restrictions, Title 42 remains in place because of orders issued by the Supreme Court and a district court in Louisiana.”

Enactment of H.R. 382 would lift Title 42 immediately and, the White House asserts, result in a substantial additional inflow of migrants at the Southwest border.  

“The number of migrants crossing the border has been cut in half, approximately, since the Administration put in place a plan in early January to deter irregular migration from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Haiti,” the White House statement says. “The Administration supports an orderly, predictable wind-down of Title 42, with sufficient time to put alternative policies in place.”


Albany County numbers

This week, Albany County’s designation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has returned to a “medium” community level of COVID-19 after being labeled “high” last week.

The county had been designated “medium” by the CDC for the four weeks prior to the “high” designation, 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.”

Only five counties in New York State are now labeled “high”: Sullivan, Orange, Richmond, Kings, and the Bronx. And, nationwide, only 4 percent of counties are labeled high while 27 percent are “medium,” and the great majority — 69 percent — are labeled “low.”

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 99.18 per 100,000 of population, down from 102 last week, 120 two weeks ago, and 107 three weeks ago but up from 79 four weeks ago and higher than almost all the case counts for the two months before that, except for the high of 104 ten weeks ago;

— For the important COVID hospital admission rate, Albany County has a rate of 16.4 per 100,000, down from 22.2 last week, 18 two weeks ago, and 22.2 three weeks ago but up from 16 three weeks ago and again up from the counts for most of the two preceding months; and

— Albany County now has 6.3 percent of its staffed hospital beds filled with COVID patients, down from 7.2 last week, 7.9 two weeks ago, 7.1 percent three weeks ago and 6.5 percent four weeks ago.

In New York State, according to the health department’s most recent figures, from Jan. 1 to 14, the Omicron variant made up 99.7 percent of new cases with the sublineage XBB.1.5 dominant at 39 percent; 26 percent were BQ.1.1 while 15 percent were BA.5, and 14 percent were BQ.1.
Nationwide, according to the CDC, from Jan. 22 to 28, the XBB.1.5 sublineage made up 61 percent of new cases, up from 49 percent last week, followed by BQ.1.1 at 22 percent and BQ.1 at 9 percent.

Meanwhile, in our region, which includes New York, New Jersey, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico, a whopping 91 percent of new cases are caused by the XBB.1.5 sublineage of Omicron, followed by BQ.1.1 at 5 percent and BQ.1 at 2 percent.

This week, Albany County’s 151st of dealing with COVID, four new COVID-related deaths were reported by the governor’s office: one on Wednesday, Jan. 25; two on Thursday, Jan. 26; and one on Tuesday, Jan. 31.

The county’s dashboard, as of Tuesday, Jan. 31, still shows a death toll of 616: 299 males and 317 females.

As of Jan. 31, according to Albany County’s COVID dashboard, 35 patients were hospitalized with COVID, down from 36 last week, 42 two weeks ago, 43 three weeks ago, 46 four weeks ago, and 36 five weeks ago, which was up from 30 six weeks ago, and 24 seven weeks ago.

About 34 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 continued to decline in recent weeks.

A month 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, has 13.6 cases per 100,000 of population, down from 14.7 last week, 16.2 two weeks ago, and 24.4 three weeks ago but still higher than 12.4 four weeks ago, 12.0 five weeks ago, 10.9 six weeks ago, and 13.5 seven weeks ago.

The current rate is up from numbers hovering between 8 and 11 two months ago, which was a fairly steady decrease from 21.8 cases per 100,000 twenty-three weeks ago.

This compares with 15.2 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 five months ago.

The lowest rates are in the Southern Tier at 10.6 cases per 100,000 as a seven-day average, down from last week’s low of 11.5 in the Finger Lakes.

The highest count is still in Mid-Hudson at 18.3, which is down from last week’s 21.7 cases per 100,000, and 23.3 the week before and down dramatically from the high on Long Island three weeks ago at 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, 20.7 percent percent of Albany County residents were up to date on vaccines, a gradual increase from 17.9 seven 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 76.4 percent of New Yorkers statewide completing a vaccination series, and 13.4 percent being up to date with vaccinations, up from 10.6 eight 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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