CDC says: COVID transmission in Albany County is ‘substantial’

— Graph from Albany County’s COVID-19 dashboard

Current daily cases of COVID-19 in Albany County equal those from September 2020, before the holiday surge, and those from this past spring. The number of cases was much lower in late June and early July before the Delta variant became dominant.

ALBANY COUNTY — On Sunday, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that Albany County has crossed over the line from “moderate” to “substantial” transmission of COVID-19, which would trigger the new CDC guidance that even vaccinated people should wear masks indoors in public.
The state has issued no directives on whether this guidance must be followed, with the governor saying it is up to individual municipalities to decide.

The Enterprise emailed Mary Rozak, spokeswoman for the county executive, on Sunday to ask if Albany County would implement any mandates and also to ask if the county is tracking the number of Delta cases or the number of vaccinated residents who have been infected with COVID-19 and what the percentages are.

On Monday, Rozak responded with this statement from the county’s health commissioner, Elizabeth Whalen: “Since the start of the pandemic, our response to COVID-19 has been driven by science and data. CDC guidelines call for masking of all individuals indoors, vaccinated or not, when a ‘substantial’ designation is reached. Albany County has currently reached this designation.

“Over 62 percent of Albany County residents are fully vaccinated and we continue to encourage county residents who have not yet been vaccinated to do so. Data continues to show vaccination decreases the risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death. We encourage people to follow the CDC guidelines and we will continue to evaluate the data and respond appropriately.”

Rozak then commented on the difficulties in obtaining data on COVID-19 variants and on whether vaccinated residents are getting infected.

The state’s health department, she said, “does a random selection of testing for the Delta variant. Not all positives are sent for advanced testing to determine what variant the positive is. It is expensive to do this so they don’t do it for every case. That may change but not anything we’ve been informed of, at this time. We are not informed of individual variants within our county, ” Rozak said in an email on Monday morning.

  She went on, “As for number of positives that have been vaccinated, it is not a matter of just pressing a button. Each case would have to be looked up in a separate vaccine database. Not to mention, those who were vaccinated outside the state or by a facility that didn’t enter the data into the State vaccine database would show as not being vaccinated. We will try to see what we can come up with.”

The CDC has set four categories for transmission: low, moderate, substantial, and high. “Substantial” means 50 to 100 cases per 100,000 population. Both “substantial” and “high” trigger the new CDC guidance.

For the seven days running from July 25 to July 31, the CDC says, Albany County has an average of 54.34 cases per 100,000 population. Other nearby counties that, as of Sunday, were labeled as having “substantial” transmission were: Rensselaer at 66.79, Saratoga at 88.75, Schenectady at 59.24, and Schoharie at 54.84 per 100,000 population.

New York State has just three counties labeled “low” transmission: Genesee, Allegany, and Yates. Most of the state is labeled “moderate” while a score of the counties have “substantial” transmission and four counties have “high” transmission: Nassau on Long Island, and Kings (Brooklyn), New York (Manhattan), and Richmond (Staten Island) in New York City.

The southern states remain the states with the highest transmission rates but the CDC reports vaccination rates there are now increasing although the percentage of vaccinated residents still lags behind most of the rest of the nation.

The Delta variant accounts for the majority of new cases in the United States, with nearly twice the rate of contagion as earlier COVID-19 variants. The Delta variant was first identified in India last October.


Barnstable study

A study conducted in Barnstable County in Massachusetts, posted to the CDC website on July 30, shows a large number of “breakthrough infections” — people who were vaccinated testing positive for COVID-19 — associated with public gatherings in Provincetown in July.

Large gatherings in Provincetown attracted thousands of tourists from across the United States. “Persons with COVID-19 reported attending densely packed indoor and outdoor events at venues that included bars, restaurants, guest houses, and rental homes,” the study said.

Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of the 469 infected people in the Barnstable study were vaccinated and 79 percent of them had symptoms, with the most common being a cough, headache, sore throat, myalgia, and fever.

The vaccine was effective in that only a handful of the people infected with COVID-19 were hospitalized and none died.

Testing identified the Delta variant in 90 percent of specimens from 133 patients.

On July 27, the CDC had recommended that all people, including those who are fully vaccinated, should wear masks in indoor public settings in areas where COVID-19 transmission is high or substantial.

Findings from the Barnstable County “suggest that even jurisdictions without substantial or high COVID-19 transmission might consider expanding prevention strategies, including masking in indoor public settings regardless of vaccination status, given the potential risk of infection during attendance at large public gatherings that include travelers from many areas with differing levels of transmission,” the study said.


Newest numbers

The Capital Region continues to have the highest rate of infection of any of New York’s 10 regions; as of Friday, as a seven-day average, it was 3.31 percent. The lowest was the North Country at 1.94 percent. Statewide, the infection rate was 2.40 percent.

On Saturday, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy announced, in a release, 29 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the county’s tally to 24,735. Among the new cases, 21 did not have a clear source of infection identified, six had close contact with someone infected with the disease, one reported traveling out of state, and one is a health-care worker or resident of a congregate living setting.

As of Saturday, there were 150 active cases in the county, up from 139 on Friday.

The number of Albany County residents under mandatory quarantine is now up to 298 from 243.

There was one new hospitalization and five county residents remained hospitalized with the virus on Saturday.

The COVID-19 death toll for Albany County remains at 388.

Currently, 66.7 percent of Albany County’s 307,117 residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine while 75.5 percent of county residents 18 and older have done so, according to the state’s vaccine tracker.

At the same time, 63.1 percent of New Yorkers have received at least one dose while 57.1 percent have completed a vaccine series.

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