Week CXX: Albany County, like most of NYS, now has ‘low’ community COVID level

— Map form the CDC
Most of New York State, including Albany County, is now designated as having a “low” community level of COVID-19. Only Nassau County, on Long Island, still is labeled as having a “high” level.

ALBANY COUNTY — After more than two years of issuing regular reports on COVID-19, both the county and the town of Guilderland are ending their frequent dispatches.

Albany County this week, like the vast majority of the state, was designated as having a “low” community level of COVID. For the previous two weeks, the county had been designated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as having a “medium” community level following nearly two months of having a “high” level.

Now, only a handful of New York’s counties are designated as “medium” and just one — Nassau County on Long Island — is still labeled “high” as most of the state once was, meaning masks should be worn indoors in public.

Also this week, the state launched a tool for small businesses to see if they qualify for tax credits because of pandemic costs, experts for the federal Food and Drug Administration advised booster shots should be geared to combat subvariants of Omicron, and a Gallup poll showed school workers are the most burned out.

Two more county residents died of COVID-19 this week: a woman in her sixties and a man in his seventies.

This brings Albany County’s death toll from the virus to 569.

“While every death is a tragedy and my condolences go out to the families who lost loved ones, Albany County’s overall COVID metrics continue to improve and move in the right direction,” said Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy in a release on Friday.

“Our infection rates and hospitalizations are down and we are likely to see this carry on at least through the summer months,” he said.

McCoy said that Friday’s release on the virus would be the county’s last update.

In March 2020, McCoy started holding daily press conferences on the virus. Those ended in June of that year when, with summer approaching, it looked like the virus had subsided — before the Delta variant took over.

That surge peaked during the holidays in December 2021 and January 2022, and was larger than the original one that was quelled with a shutdown.

Even with vaccinations widely available, the Omicron variant caused a still larger surge in January 2022 although there were fewer hospitalizations and deaths than with the original surges.

More recently, Omicron subvariants caused another, smaller surge in New York State and much of the Northeast.

After ending the regular daily press conferences, McCoy’s office put out daily releases, before scaling back to twice-weekly releases.

Governor Kathy Hochul in mid-June extended New York’s state of emergency until mid-July.

“My staff and I will continue to monitor the data and for those who still want the current status of our pandemic response, we will still be updating our COVID dashboard on the county website,” McCoy said in his Friday release.

“Additionally,” he went on, “New York State continues to provide daily reports on infections, hospitalizations, vaccinations and more for counties, regions and the entire state at their own dashboard.”

While the state reports daily on the deaths in each county, it does not report, as Albany County had, the gender and age of the victims.

McCoy concluded with this caveat: “If there is a surge in infections or hospitalizations or any other kind or urgent situation in the county, I will be sure to alert the public.”

Similarly, Guilderland Supervisor Peter Barber wrote in his daily COVID email on June 26, “With COVID-19 numbers continuing to trend in a good direction, and the Governor and County Executive no longer providing daily updates, I will be ending these consecutive daily updates on Thursday, and will switch to a weekly emailed newsletter that will provide COVID information, upcoming events in Town, and other items of community interest.”

Thursday’s email is Barber’s 845th dispatch.


Albany County

On Tuesday, Albany County’s most recent seven-day average of COVID cases per 100,000 of population is down to 12.7, according to the state’s dashboard, continuing the decrease that started on May 19.

This compares with 14.0 last week, 16.8 two weeks ago, 25.4 three weeks ago, 38.2 four weeks ago, 49.6 five weeks ago, 51.2 six weeks ago, 54.2 cases per 100,000 seven weeks ago, 43.7 eight weeks ago, 37.7 nine weeks ago, 28.3 cases 10 weeks ago, 21.1 cases 11 weeks ago, and 11.0 cases per 100,000 twelve weeks ago.

The state’s count of cases per 100,000 of population, as a seven-day average, peaked at 51.0 on May 11. It is now down to 20.6, continuing to decline from 24.48 last week, 27.60 two weeks ago, 29.89 three weeks ago, and a dramatic drop from 41.41 four weeks ago.

New York City now has the highest rate at 26.9 per 100,000, which is down from 32.47 per 100,000 last week while the Finger Lakes region has the lowest rate at 4.8, down from 8.70 last week, which was down from 9.90 per 100,000 of population two weeks ago.

The less reliable infection rate — the percentage of positive test results — is now at 9.0 percent for Albany County, up from 7.0 percent last week as a seven-day average.

This was down from 7.7 two weeks ago, 8.6 percent three weeks ago, and 11.6 percent four weeks ago, after a steady climb up: 13.1 five weeks ago, 13.3 percent six weeks ago, 12.2 percent seven weeks ago, 10.0 percent eight weeks ago, 13.5 percent nine weeks ago, 9.1 percent 10 weeks ago, 7.5 percent 11 weeks ago, 3.5 percent 12 weeks ago, and 2.6 percent 13 weeks ago.

Statewide, as a seven-day average, the infection rate is 4.7 percent, down from 5.18 percent last week, and 5.47 percent two weeks ago. It was 5.95 percent three weeks ago, a decrease from 6.82 percent four weeks ago, and 8.04 percent five weeks ago.

Mid-Hudson has the lowest rate at 3.5 percent. Long Island still has the highest rate at 7.6 percent, down slightly from 7.80 percent last week, which was up from 7.39 percent two weeks ago, which was down from 8.94 percent three weeks ago.

Hospitalizations typically lag behind infection rates.

As of June 28, the Albany County COVID dashboard shows 27 county residents are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, two fewer than last week but a dramatic drop from the 41 hospitalized the week before.

Four weeks ago, 48 county residents were hospitalized with COVID, compared to 43 hospitalized five weeks ago, 42 six weeks ago, 51 seven weeks ago, 34 eight weeks ago, 31 nine weeks ago, 30 county residents 10 weeks ago, 21 eleven weeks ago, and 13 hospitalized with the virus 12 weeks ago.

So it appears that, after a steady increase for a month and a half, hospitalizations leveled off and are now still dropping. Also, the governor’s office reports that 37.6 percent of people with COVID-19 hospitalized in the Capital Region were not admitted because of the virus, a decrease from 40.6 percent last week and 45.1 two weeks ago, which itself was an increase from 38.3 percent the week before.

A quarter of county residents are still not fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The state’s health department reported on Tuesday that 74.6 percent of the county’s population has been fully vaccinated while 61.7 percent of those eligible have been boosted.


FDA: Gear boosters for new variants

Before an expected winter surge of the coronavirus, a committee of experts at the Food and Drug Administration urged on Tuesday that booster shots be geared to combat subvariants of Omicron.

Two subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5, now make up over half of the new cases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For Region 2 (New York and New Jersey as well as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands), as with most of the Northeast, the dominant variant is still BA.2.12.1, at 53.5 percent. For Region 2, for the week running from June 19 to 25, BA.5 is at 31.2 percent, BA.4 is at 11.9 percent, and BA.2 is at 3.4 percent.

“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to present an extraordinary challenge to global public health, and response to the pandemic has been complicated by the rapid evolution of the virus,” says an FDA briefing document for the June 28 meeting.

“While the development, authorization and deployment of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines has been a critical component of the global response to the pandemic,” it goes on, “uncertainties about the future course of the pandemic along with an incomplete understanding of SARS-CoV-2 immunology leave open scientific and policy questions regarding the optimal use and further development of COVID-19 vaccines.”

The document notes that, in the United States, more than 85.9 million cases and 1 million deaths have been reported to the CDC. “In addition to case fatalities, COVID-19 has been responsible for significant short-term and long-term morbidity. Furthermore, the pandemic has caused significant challenges and disruptions in worldwide healthcare systems, economies, and many other aspects of human activity,” it says, naming travel, employment, and education as examples.

The document says the vaccines currently approved in the United States, based on the original Wuhan strain of the virus, “have retained some level of effectiveness” against variants that have emerged so far, being more effective against hospitalization and death than against mild symptomatic disease.

“The potential benefits offered by an updated vaccine containing a variant-specific component will have to be weighed against multiple uncertainties,” the document says, “including the future course of virus evolution, the lack of clinical efficacy data compared to earlier prototype vaccines, and potential manufacturing issues that might arise related to producing an updated vaccine formulation.”

Under “Next Steps,” the FDA document says, “This year is a transitional year as we begin the process of strain selection for COVID-19 vaccines that more closely match the currently circulating virus variants.”

An updated vaccine, it says, “may be particularly important as the 2022-2023 winter season progresses and the risk of another major COVID-19 outbreak increases due to the combination of waning immunity, further evolution of variants, and increased indoor activity.”


K-12 workers most burned out

United States workers in schools for kindergarten through 12th grade have the highest burnout level of all industries nationally, according to a recent Gallup poll. Forty-four percent say they “always” or “very often” feel burned out at work.

This compares to jobs in finance, social services, construction, technology, manufacturing, utilities, and entertainment where the percentage is in the 20s for burnout, and to jobs in law, health care, retail, government, professional services and at universities where the burnout percentage is in the 30s.

The results are based on a Gallup Panel Workforce Study conducted in February.

“K-12 workers have consistently been among the more burned out workers nationally, but the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing challenges — and introduced new ones to a profession already struggling,” says Gallup. “School openings and closures; parent and community member frustrations with school pandemic responses; and social, academic and mental health challenges students faced only furthered K-12 burnout.”

In March 2020, when the pandemic began, 36 percent of K-12 workers reported feeling burned out very often or always, eight percentage points higher than the 28 percent found among all other workers as a whole.

But this gap has since nearly doubled, with 44 percent of K-12 workers now reporting they feel burned out very often or always, compared with 30 percent of all other workers — a 14-point difference.

Burnout levels are higher among female K-12 workers than their male counterparts, which is consistent with all workers nationally. Female teachers in particular are especially burned out, at 55 percent, with male teachers following at 44 percent.

“In addition to the well-known problems caused by COVID-19, a growing number of states are navigating complicated political environments related to K-12 curriculum,” Gallup says. “And educators are experiencing the impact of that in conversations and interactions with parents and families. The result is a workforce that is burned out and unfortunately leaving the profession at a high rate.”


Tool for businesses to find tax credits

On Monday, Hochul announced a tool to help small businesses — with 100 employees or fewer — determine their eligibility for the COVID-19 Capital Costs Tax Credit Program.

The $250 million program is to support businesses that made investments to comply with emergency orders and regulations or to increase public safety in response to COVID-19. If deemed eligible by the screening tool, a link to the application will be provided when the program application opens. 

Eligible COVID-19-related costs include, but are not limited to:

— Supplies to disinfect or protect against COVID-19 transmission;

— Costs associated with expanding, or defining space to accommodate social distancing;

— Equipment for heating, ventilation, or air-conditioning;

— Expenses related to increased outdoor activity and outdoor space expansions; and

— Machinery and equipment to facilitate contactless sales.

Tax credits will cover 50 percent of eligible costs, up to $50,000, for a maximum tax credit award of $25,000, and credits will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis until program funds are depleted.

Eligible businesses must operate a location in New York State, have 100 or fewer employees, $2.5 million or less of gross receipts in the 2021 tax year, and at least $2,000 in eligible costs between Jan. 1, 2021 and Dec. 31, 2022.

Businesses are still encouraged to apply for the New York State COVID-19 Pandemic Small Business Recovery Grant Program which provides flexible grants of $5,000 to $50,000 for small businesses for COVID-19 expenses. However, costs incurred between Jan. 1 and April 1, 2021 that were paid for with proceeds from this grant program are not eligible for a tax credit under the COVID-19 Capital Costs Tax Credit Program.

To receive a tax credit for their 2022 tax return, businesses must receive a tax credit certificate from Empire State Development on or before Dec. 31, 2022. Potential applicants are urged to complete the screening tool and apply as soon as the program is launched, as any tax credits issued on or after Jan. 1, 2023 cannot be claimed until a business's 2023 tax return. For more detailed information visit the ESD website at esd.ny.gov/covid-19-capital-cost-tax-credit.

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