County health advisory: Wear masks indoors in public

— Map from NYS SARS-CoV-2 Wastewater Surveillance

The area of Albany County served by the city’s South Plant is colored red for “high” levels of COVID in wastewater.

ALBANY COUNTY — On Monday afternoon, the county’s health department put out an advisory “strongly recommending all residents, regardless of vaccination status, … wear masks in indoor public spaces, including private businesses.”

The advisory was issued because of the rising positivity rate in Albany County, according to the county’s spokeswoman, Mary Rozak.

The percentage of positive COVID-19 test results, as a seven-day average for Albany County, was 13.5 percent, according to the state’s dashboard on Monday. Statewide, the average was 6.9 percent.

The governor’s office on Monday reported that Albany County had 107 positive test results the day before and two more COVID-related deaths.

Since so many people are now taking at-home tests, a more reliable metric is the cases per 100,000 of population; Albany County is at 37.7 as a seven-day average, according to the state’s dashboard.

New York State continues to be the national epicenter of the latest COVID surge, caused by two new subvariants of the Omicron variant.

Governor Kathy Hochul last week said that, despite a federal judge in Florida lifting the mask requirement for travelers, New Yorkers, because of the subvariant surge, would have to continue to mask in certain settings.

This includes buses and bus stations, trains and train stations, subway and subway stations, and airports. It also includes homeless and domestic-violence shelters, correctional facilities, and state-regulated health-care and adult-care facilities and nursing homes.

Hochul had lifted the mask-or-vax requirement for businesses in February, and the mask mandate for schools not in New York City was lifted on March 2.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has labeled Albany County as having a “high” community level of transmission meaning masks should be worn indoors in public.

Both Albany county and the CDC continue to encourage people to complete their primary COVID-19 vaccine series, get boosted when eligible, test when not feeling well or potentially exposed, and to contact a health-care provider following testing positive to discuss eligibility for treatments.

Just over a quarter of Albany County residents still have not been fully vaccinated.



The last time Albany County issued a mask advisory was in early December. It was issued jointly with Schenectady County as infection rates, after Thanksgiving gatherings, surged, topping the rates from a year ago. The Delta variant was still dominant.

That same week, the first Omicron cases were reported in New York State. Soon after, the Omicron variant surged well beyond the current rates.

Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy said in early December that he had conferred with the other county leaders in the Capital Region, and only Schenectady County Manager Rory Fluman was willing to issue the new advisories.

“The only way new restrictions will truly work is if we do it on a regional approach,” said McCoy at the time.

Fluman agreed that the mask advisories should be regional. “For me,” he said, “it’s about citizenship … wearing a mask is a good thing to do as an American citizen.”

The advisories then and now are not a mandate and have no enforcement mechanism.

“It’s just an advisory,” Rozak told The Enterprise Monday when asked if there were any penalties for not masking indoors.

The Enterprise also asked Rozak what the latest numbers were for wastewater surveillance in Albany County since COVID levels in wastewater can predict what is to come in infection rates.

Wastewater samples collected and analyzed on April 4 in Albany County showed a 32-percent spike in COVID-19 intensity over a two-week period, the county reported earlier this month. Rozak said, though, that the state runs the surveillance program and the county doesn’t have those numbers; she said she’d put in a request.

Rozak also noted that wastewater samples are taken from the Albany County Water Purification District’s South Plant, which serves just a portion of the city, and may not apply to Albany County as a whole.

The state site has colored the map of the area of Albany County served by the South Plant red for “high.” It says the plant serves an estimated population of 80,922. (Albany County’s population is over 300,000.)

The site also says the last sample was from April 18 and there was “0 percent decrease in intensity over two weeks.”


Hospital visits

Starting today, April 25, St. Peter’s and Samaritan hospitals began new protocols for visitors.

Patients can have one unique visitor a day during visiting hours, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day.

COVID patients undergoing continuous aerosol-generating procedures are permitted one unique visitor per day for one hour.

All visitors will be asked to show ID and be screened for temperature. Each will be given a medical-grade face mask and are expected to wear it at all times.

“Visitors are strongly encouraged to be vaccinated,” the guidance from St. Peter’s Health Partners says in boldface.

“During this unprecedented time, it has been necessary to balance the benefits of visitation to our hospitalized patients with the potential risks of COVID-19 spread,” the policy says.

“Visitors who are at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19, such as older adults and those with underlying medical conditions,” the policy says, “are strongly discouraged from visiting at this time.

“Likewise, a planned visit to any patient who is at a higher risk of acquiring and suffering significant consequences from COVID-19 should be considered a greater risk than benefit to that patient.”

More accommodating rules are in place for the emergency department, for labor and delivery, for end-of-life hospice care, and for special-needs patients.

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