Week CVIII: State clinics give 2nd boosters, launch campaign to vax young kids, metrics switch

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer
Just 36 percent of New York children between the ages of 5 and 11 are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, something the governor and health experts advocate. Artwork created by children vaccinated at the state site in Guilderland's Crossgates Mall is posted on this wall.

ALBANY COUNTY — This week, Governor Kathy Hochul announced second COVID booster shots are available for eligible New Yorkers at state-run vaccination sites, and the state launched a campaign to get more young children vaccinated.

Currently, just 36 percent of children ages 5 to 11 have been fully vaccinated while 73 percent of adolescents aged 12 to 17 have, according to state figures.

At the same time, the federal government is moving to a more do-it-yourself approach when it comes to testing for and treatment of COVID.

Also, senators have struck a deal to spend $10 billion — less than half of the $22.5 billion sought by the Biden administration — to pay for COVID vaccines, testing, and treatment. The aid package does not include funds for vaccination outside of the United States.

All 15 of the state’s vaccine sites, including the one at Crossgates Mall in Guilderland, remain open and New Yorkers over the age of 50 are encouraged to get a second booster in accordance with the recently expanded guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

New Yorkers who are 50 or older and are four months past their first booster are eligible for a second shot. Also, New Yorkers who are12 and older and are immunocompromised are eligible for a second booster.

A study in Israel, published on Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, on second booster shots given to people 60 and older, found infection and cases of severe COVID-19 were lower after the second booster than after just one booster.

The study concluded, “Protection against confirmed infection appeared short-lived, whereas protection against severe illness did not wane during the study period.”

The second booster’s effectiveness against infection wanes after a month, the study found, and is negligible after two months. However, rates of severe disease were 3.5 times higher among seniors who had just one booster shot as opposed to two.

The highly transmissible sublineage of Omicron, BA.2, is now dominant in the United States. In New York and New Jersey, BA.2 makes up 84 percent of the COVID-19 cases, as of April 2, according to the CDC.

So far, BA.2 has not caused the surge of cases in the United States that it did in Europe. Some experts think this is because about 45 percent of Americans were infected with the original Omicron and still have immunity.

As of Tuesday, Albany County, like most of New York State and most of the United States, continues to have a “low” community level of COVID-19, meaning no masks are required in indoor public spaces.

However, in central New York, four counties — Broome, Tioga, Cortland, and Tompkins — have a “medium” level and three counties — Cayuga, Onondaga, and Oswego — have a “high” level.



For the third week in a row, Albany County has seen its infection rate — the percentage of positive COVID tests — tick up.

On Monday, though, the state announced it is following the lead of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, which is no longer requiring testing facilities that use rapid antigen tests to report negative results.

So now New York is computing its percent-positive metric using only lab-reported PCR (polymerase chain reaction) results. Reporting of new daily cases and cases per 100,000 of population will continue to include both PCR and antigen tests.

“The most reliable metric to measure virus impact on a community is the case per 100,000 data — not percent positivity,” the governor’s office said in a release on Monday.

On Tuesday, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy reported that the county’s seven-day average for positivity was 4.5 percent, up from 3.5 percent last week and 2.6 percent two weeks ago.

Statewide, the positivity rate was 3.05 percent, with central New York at a statewide high of 8.68 percent — without including the at-home tests reported by Onondaga County; with those tests, the rate was 9.66 percent.

The governor’s office again explained that future reports will not include home-test data to align with other counties.

Albany County continues to encourage residents to submit the positive results of at-home COVID testing on the county website.

With so many sick New Yorkers now testing themselves at home, the metric for calculating a positivity rate falters further.

Last Thursday, Hochul’s office sent out a release announcing nearly 70 million COVID tests have been distributed to New Yorkers.

Consequently, as more New Yorkers use at-home tests over on-site testing, the state is scaling down its testing sites. The state has retained contracts to swiftly reopen testing sites through June if needed, the release said.

Nearly 100,000 tests have been conducted at state testing sites since Jan. 7. There are 1,910 registered locations to obtain a test in New York State; locations can be found here

“As we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, test kits are a critical tool in the fight to stop the spread of COVID-19 and prevent exposure to others,” Hochul said in the release.

Using the metric the governor’s office termed “most reliable,” Albany County, as of Tuesday, as a seven-day average, had 13.3 COVID cases per 100,000 of population, which is up from 11.0 last week, 8.1 two weeks ago, and up from 7.6 three weeks ago.

Statewide, there are 17.73 cases per 100,000 with a whopping 42.50 per 100,000 in Central New York — 47.27 if at-home tests are counted.

On Tuesday, McCoy reported the county’s seven-day average of new daily positive cases at 58.1, which is up from 48.4 last week, up from 36.0 two weeks ago, and up from 29.5 three weeks ago.

There are now 13 Albany County residents hospitalized with COVID-19, with one in an intensive-care unit — the same as last week.

Also, no new COVID-related deaths were reported for Albany County residents this week — for only the second week in the last six months. The county’s COVID-19 death toll remains at 538.

Guilderland Supervisor Peter Barber, in his daily COVID update to town residents, reported this week that the number of ambulance transports for COVID patients to hospitals has declined dramatically. There were nine transports in December, 10 in January, three in February, and three in March.


Feds: DIY

As health departments in New York State and elsewhere are no longer doing the contact tracing they did for most of the first two years of the pandemic, the federal government has launched a website to help Americans figure out, as individuals, how to deal with COVID-19.

The “toolkit” has links to find test-to-treat locations, vaccine sites, and how to order masks and self-administered tests.

“The distribution of at-home COVID-19 tests is a critical tool helping to curb spread in our communities …,” said Mary Bassett, New York’s health commissioner, in a statement. 

Bassett cited new research released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, stressing the importance of equity in pandemic response. “In getting tests to nursing homes, senior centers, food banks, and NYC Housing Authority tenants, and in keeping our state-run mass vaccination sites open to all, that’s exactly what New York State is doing,” said Bassett.

The CDC study said that home-test use was lower among people who self-identified as Black, were 75 or older, ​​had lower incomes, and had a high school level education or less.

“COVID-19 testing, including at-home tests, along with prevention measures such as quarantine and isolation when warranted, wearing a well-fitted mask when recommended after a positive test or known exposure, and staying up to date with vaccination can help reduce the spread of COVID-19,” the CDC says. “Providing reliable and low-cost or free at-home test kits to underserved populations with otherwise limited access to COVID-19 testing could assist with continued prevention efforts.”

On Monday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, known as CMS, announced that Medicare will pay pharmacies and doctors to provide up to eight at-home tests a month for the rest of the COVID-19 health emergency.

This is the first time that Medicare has covered an over-the-counter self-administered test at no cost to beneficiaries, the CMS said. These tests are in addition to the two sets of four free at-home COVID-19 tests Americans can continue to order from covidtests.gov.

A list of eligible pharmacies and other health-care providers that have committed publicly to participate in this initiative can be found here

Also this week, the CDC updated its “Quarantine and Isolation Calculator” so that Americans, by themselves, can “determine how long you need to isolate, quarantine, or take other steps to prevent spreading COVID-19,” the site says.

The calculator is meant to help a person who is exposed to COVID figure out precisely how long to quarantine, and a person sick with COVID how long to isolate. The site also includes guidance on what to do during and after quarantine or isolation periods.


Immigration ban to be lifted

On Friday, April 1, the CDC announced that the emergency public health order banning migrants entering the United States, placed two years ago, will be lifted on May 23.

“After considering current public health conditions and an increased availability of tools to fight COVID-19 (such as highly effective vaccines and therapeutics), the CDC Director has determined that an Order suspending the right to introduce migrants into the United States is no longer necessary,” the announcement said.

The CDC noted that, in the current public-health landscape, 97.1 percent of the United States population lives in a county identified as having a “low” community level of COVID-19.

The May 23 date, the CDC said, will give the Department of Homeland Security “time to implement appropriate COVID-19 mitigation protocols, such as scaling up a program to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to migrants and prepare for resumption of regular migration under Title 8.”


Population shift

During the pandemic’s first year, New York City’s population dropped by nearly 4 percent, close to 400,000 people, while residents migrated to less dense areas in nearby counties and neighboring states, according to a Cornell analysis.

Of the 10 regions in New York State, only the Capital Region gained population due to more people moving in than moving out. 

All regions in the state experienced a rise in deaths and a fall in births between the 2019/2020 and 2020/2021 periods, the study found.

While several hundred thousand people moved away, New York City, led by Brooklyn, recorded more than 38,000 more births than deaths, contributing to the state’s 0.1 percent “natural increase” in population.

International migration decreased slightly from the previous period but remained positive for all regions and all but two of New York’s 62 counties.

Though all regions in past estimates lost population due to domestic migration, from July 2020 to 2021 two regions — the Capital region and the North Country — experienced positive domestic migration while the remaining regions saw smaller losses due to domestic migration than in previous years.

Eight out of 10 regions lost population between April 1, 2020 and July 1, 2021. Only the Capital and Mid-Hudson regions showed very small increases. Of the 62 counties in New York, 46 lost population since the last federal census.


Help for tourism

Applications are being accepted for two tourism grant programs:

— The $100 million Tourism Return-to-Work program; and

— The $25 million Meet in New York grant program.

Before the pandemic, tourism supported one in 10 jobs throughout the state, according to a release from the governor’s office.

The Return-to-Work program will give qualified businesses grants of $5,000 for each new full-time job added and $2,500 for each part-time job added between January and June 2022. Details are posted at the state site.

The Meet in New York program will give grants to conference venues and licensed overnight lodging facilities, provided as reimbursement. The program is limited to new events and applications are due by Dec. 31, 2022.

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