Week CXIV: Reinfection rates rise along with spread of Omicron subvariants

— Graph from NYSDOH

Recently, in the Capital Region, reinfections of COVID-19, represented by the blue bars, have been rising rapidly. The orange line represents the reinfection rate per 100,000.

ALBANY COUNTY — While the United States this week, on Thursday, May 12, reached the sad mark of one million lives lost, by official count, to Covid-19, New York State Governor Kathy Hochul, on Sunday, May 15, extended the state’s pandemic state of emergency through June 14.

For over a month, Albany County has been labeled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as having a “high” community level of COVID-19. That continues this week along with the guidance that masks should be worn indoors in public.

While most of the nation this week continues to have a “low” community level of COVID-19, most of the counties in New York State have a “high” level. Just one county, the Bronx, has a low level while 14 New York State counties have a “medium” level.

The reinfection rate for the Omicron variant and its subvariants remains high.

“As the Omicron variant emerged in New York State, the number of people who have been infected with COVID for a second time has increased dramatically,” the state’s health department reports on its website.

The CDC reports this week that, for the New York - New Jersey area, 26.8 percent of the cases are of the original Omicron variant, BA.2, while 73.1 percent are of the Omicron subvariant BA.2.12.1.

A person is considered to have been reinfected if he or she tests positive again 90 days or more after their first positive test.

Through May 8, there have been 232,866 cases of reinfection in New York State, which represents about 4.3 percent of all COVID infections reported to date in the state.

However, 202,310 of these reinfections have occurred since the week of Dec. 13, 2021, the week that variants sequenced in New York State increased to 20 percent Omicron. This corresponds to 86.9 percent of reinfections reported in the state to date.

The Capital Region, between Jan. 1, 2021 and May 2, 2022, the state’s health department reports, has had 228,384 first infections and 7,759 reinfections.

For the last week tallied, at the end of April through May 2, the Capital Region has had 3,821 first infections and 416 reinfections; for the same time period, this is 50.3 cases per 100,000 of first infections and 5.5 cases per 100,000 of population reinfections.

The New York Times quoted researchers, in a story published on Tuesday, saying that, going forward, there may be waves of COVID infections two or three times a year. It’s hard to tell how often people are reinfected partly because many cases of COVID-19 are unreported.

New York State Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said in January that, with such a rapidly-evolving virus and emerging new variants, herd immunity no longer has meaning.

New variants have been able to circumvent vaccines, causing break-through infections, although experts still stress that being fully vaccinated and boosted reduces the likelihood of severe illness.


Albany County

This week, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy announced three more COVID-related deaths — a man in his fifties, a man in his sixties, and a woman who was over 100. This brings the county’s death toll from the virus to 556.

“The coronavirus continues to spread rapidly,” said McCoy in his Friday release, “largely driven by the highly contagious variants, and it is still a threat. However, I’m heartened to see that hospitalizations in Albany County remain under control for now, which is the more important indicator.”

 As of Tuesday, 42 county residents were hospitalized with the virus, two of them in intensive-care units.

This compares to 51 last week, 34 two weeks ago, 31 three weeks ago, 30 county residents four weeks ago, 21 county residents hospitalized five weeks ago, and 13 hospitalized with the virus six weeks ago.

The governor’s office reports that 38 percent of people with COVID-19 hospitalized in the Capital Region were not admitted because of the virus.

McCoy on Tuesday also reported Albany County’s most recent seven-day average of COVID cases per 100,000 population is now at 51.2.

This compares with 54.2 cases per 100,000 last week, 43.7 two weeks ago, 37.7 three weeks ago, 28.3 cases four weeks ago, 21.1 cases five weeks ago, and 11.0 cases per 100,000 six weeks ago — perhaps a leveling off after a steady progression upward.

Statewide, the seven-day average is 50.50 per 100,000 with Long Island the highest at 62.72 and the North country the lowest at 38.97 cases per 100,000 of population.

The less reliable infection rate — the percentage of positive test results — is now at 13.3 percent for Albany County as a seven-day average.

This compares to 12.2 percent last week, 10.0 percent two weeks ago, 13.5 percent three weeks ago, 9.1 percent four weeks ago, 7.5 percent five weeks ago, 3.5 percent six weeks ago, and 2.6 percent seven weeks ago — a steady climb upward.

Statewide, as a seven-day average. The infection rate is 7.66 percent with New York City the lowest at 5.18 percent and Western New York the highest at 18.20 percent.

“Given the level of community spread that we’re dealing with, the best weapon we have in our arsenal is the vaccine and booster shot,” McCoy said in his Friday release.

Still, just over a quarter of county residents are not fully vaccinated.

“We continue to offer COVID vaccinations at the County Health Department with walk-ins available, and delivery services are still being offered as well,” McCoy went on. “Additionally, wearing masks indoors provides an added layer of protection for those who need it, especially for those with weakened immune systems or underlying health conditions, and people should continue getting tested when they’re experiencing symptoms.”


Boosters for kids

On Tuesday, the federal Food and Drug Administration authorized a booster shot for 5- to 11-year-olds. The next step is CDC authorization.

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is to be administered at least five months after completion of the primary series.

The FDA had authorized the Pfizer booster for 12- to 15-year-olds on Jan. 3.

“While it has largely been the case that COVID-19 tends to be less severe in children than adults, the omicron wave has seen more kids getting sick with the disease and being hospitalized, and children may also experience longer term effects, even following initially mild disease, …” said FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, in a statement.

“Vaccination continues to be the most effective way to prevent COVID-19 and its severe consequences, and it is safe,” Califf continued. “If your child is eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine and has not yet received their primary series, getting them vaccinated can help protect them from the potentially severe consequences that can occur, such as hospitalization and death.”

“Boosters are widely available, free, and safe,” said Hochul in a release on Tuesday, announcing the FDA emergency authorization. “And, when it comes to protecting New Yorkers from COVID-19, they continue to be our best defense. Still, with just over half of eligible New Yorkers boosted, we need more New Yorkers — adults and children alike — to take advantage of this life-saving tool.

“So, my message to parents and guardians is this: On the heels of this very good news, let’s set an example for our kids. Get boosted, then get your kids boosted as soon as they’re eligible.”


Federal help

The federal government is now offering a third round of free at-home tests for COVID-19. The test may be ordered online at: https://www.covid.gov/tests.

Each order has two packages, with four tests each, of rapid antigen tests. They are delivered by the United States Postal Service.

On May 16, Hochul said she spoke with White House COVID-19 coordinator Ashish Jha “about the state of the pandemic and the administration’s preparation plans to ensure states have the resources, supplies, and distribution networks needed to manage potential surges across the country this summer and fall.”

“We know that tools such as vaccines, boosters, testing and treatment have been critical to fighting COVID-19, responding to variants, keeping hospitalizations down, and saving lives,” said in her Monday release. “That is why I continue to call on Congress to pass additional federal funding, which will prove critical to helping states unlock further resources needed for future COVID-19 variants and surges.”


Federal report

On May 12, the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis released a staff report detailing how meatpacking companies engaged Trump Administration political appointees in an aggressive campaign to force workers to remain in dangerous plants with high risk of coronavirus transmission, according to a release from the commission.

  The report shows how industry representatives successfully enlisted help from the United States Department of Agriculture in weakening federal worker protections and insulating facilities from state and local health department regulations.

“The Select Subcommittee’s investigation has revealed that former President Trump’s political appointees at USDA collaborated with large meatpacking companies to lead an Administration-wide effort to force workers to remain on the job during the coronavirus crisis despite dangerous conditions, and even to prevent the imposition of commonsense mitigation measures,” said Congressman James E. Clyburn, a Democrat from South Carolina, who chairs the committee, in a statement.

“This coordinated campaign prioritized industry production over the health of workers and communities, and contributed to tens of thousands of workers becoming ill, hundreds of workers dying, and the virus spreading throughout surrounding areas,” he went on. “The shameful conduct of corporate executives pursuing profit at any cost during a crisis and government officials eager to do their bidding regardless of resulting harm to the public must never be repeated.” 

The May 12 report is based on more than 151,000 pages of documents collected from meatpacking companies and interest groups.  During the investigation, Select Subcommittee staff conducted over a dozen survey calls with meatpacking workers, union representatives, former officials from the USDA and Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and state and local health authorities; and held staff briefings with OSHA and with USDA.

The Select Subcommittee also obtained information relevant to the investigation during transcribed interviews with a current CDC official and the former Trump Administration CDC Director.   

The Select Subcommittee began investigating coronavirus outbreaks at meatpacking plants owned by Tyson, JBS, and Smithfield in February 2021, and expanded the investigation in September 2021 to include Cargill and National Beef.


Help for struggling families with children

This month, $28 million in federal pandemic funding will be distributed to New Yorkers with children to cover expenses from the COVID public health emergency.

Administered through the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, the Pandemic Emergency Assistance Fund will provide families on public assistance with a child 17 or younger in their household with $250 to help pay for housing expenses, bills, and other critical needs.

This assistance follows Governor Kathy Hochul's announcement listing resources for families struggling to obtain baby formula amid recent shortages.

“The economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacted low-income families across our state — especially those with children,” Hochul said in a statement. “This one-time payment will provide tens of thousands of families with a critical lifeline to help pay past-due bills or other household expenses that accrued as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Starting May 14, OTDA began issuing one-time payments to eligible households. Roughly 112,000 households will receive the payments, which will assist more than 216,000 children, according to the governor’s office.

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