Week LXXIV: County suffers high transmission and infection rates as Delta spreads even to children

Dan McCoy

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff
On May 12, as infection rates and hospitalizations decreased in Albany County, Executive Daniel McCoy said of reaching herd immunity, “We won’t need the mask once we get to 70 percent.”

ALBANY COUNTY — On Monday of this week, Albany County’s 74th of coping with the coronavirus, the county was labeled “high” — the top or worst of four rankings for the rate of community transmission — by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That rating has held all week as New York State, as a whole, and the nation have also been labeled as having a high transmission of the virus.

As of Wednesday, as a seven-day average, Albany County has a transmission rate of 118.2 per 100,000 people. New York State is at 124.6 and the United States is at 232.1 per 100,000 people.

Any area with over 50 cases per 100,000 — areas with both substantial and high transmission rates — triggers CDC advice to wear masks indoors in public regardless of vaccination status.

The United States is now averaging over 100,000 new cases a day, which hasn’t happened since February, before the vaccine was widely available. The seven-day average of new cases has doubled in the last two weeks as has the death rate.

The highly contagious Delta variant, which can infect and be transmitted by vaccinated people, now makes up the vast majority of cases.

Just eight states are in the “substantial” range, with between 50 and 99 cases per 100,000 residents: Colorado, Minnesota, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland.

Just one state, Michigan, has a “moderate” rate at 47.1 per 100,000 residents, and no states are labeled as having “low” transmission.

Last week, when New York State crossed the threshold from “moderate” to “substantial” transmission, the state issued no directives on whether this guidance had to be followed, with Governor Andrew Cuomo saying it is up to individual municipalities to decide.

On Tuesday, Aug. 3, the attorney general released a scathing report, saying that Cuomo had broken state and federal laws, harassing 11 women. Cuomo at first resisted but, as impeachment preparations proceeded and calls for his resignation mounted, he announced on Tuesday he would resign in two weeks. He has held no COVID-19 briefings or events since Monday, Aug. 2.

On Aug. 5, Howard Zucker, the state’s health commissioner, tersely announced that the long-anticipated guidance for schools to reopen safely in September would not be forthcoming. “School districts are re-established as the controlling entity,” he said.

This Tuesday, Aug. 10, the state’s education commissioner, Betty Rosa, wrote a letter to school leaders across the state, saying her department would fill the void left by the health department.

“Although the Education Department does not have direct jurisdiction over matters of public health, the Department does possess oversight authority for schools, and continues its attempts to engage with the appropriate state and federal agencies on this matter …,” Rosa wrote. “We anticipate the forthcoming guidance will address questions around the wearing of masks, social distancing, remote learning, transportation, community transmission tracking and potential funding sources available to schools and districts that may help with preparing for the upcoming school year and beyond.”

 

Worst rate

The Capital Region continues to have the worst rate of infection of any of New York State’s 10 regions, at 4.42 percent, as a seven-day average as of Tuesday. The statewide average is 3.01 percent.

Albany County’s infection rate, as of Tuesday, as a seven-day rolling average, was 5.0 percent, according to the state’s dashboard.

All week long, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy, in his daily press releases, has reported new cases of COVID-19 in the double-digits  — with a high of 80 new cases reported on Saturday, the highest report since April 22.

“This significant uptick is due to the highly contagious Delta variant,” McCoy said in his release on Saturday. “It spreads quickly, and even vaccinated people can catch and spread it. In fact, we have reported 292 new positive cases since August 2nd and there is no doubt that we need to get more people vaccinated against COVID-19.”

At the same time this week, hospitalizations have also increased.

On Wednesday, McCoy announced 50 new COVID-19 cases with 335 active cases in the county, up from 326 since Tuesday.

The number of Albany County residents under quarantine increased to 651 from 599.

There were three new hospitalizations since Tuesday, and 18 county residents are now hospitalized with the virus — a net increase of one. There are now four patients in intensive-care units, up from three since Tuesday.

Guilderland Supervisor Peter Barber in his daily email to town residents noted last Friday that, for the first time since May 22, the town’s ambulances this week transported four positive COVID-19 residents to area hospitals. 

“As a general rule, hospital transports are a lagging indicator of the spread of the virus in our community,” Barber wrote. “Based upon this data, and understanding of local conditions, the Medical Director and EMS Director are strongly encouraging the wearing of facemasks in indoor settings regardless of vaccination status.”

 

Mitigation

Masking and vaccination remain the two best public-health strategies to quell the virus.

“While COVID vaccinations have slowed overall in recent weeks, I’m happy to report that new data is showing some modest increases at our vaccine POD’s, including the pop-up clinics offered specifically for our youth,” said McCoy in a statement on Wednesday, referencing points of dispensing.

“We were able to provide 60 first doses in a single day at one POD,” McCoy went on. “And the number of weekly first doses offered at our walk-up clinic at the County Department of Health and home visits more than tripled compared to the previous week. This is likely caused by news spreading of the dangers of the Delta variant.”

According to the state’s vaccine tracker, 67.5 percent of Albany County’s 307,117 residents have received at least one shot of vaccine, as of Wednesday night. Statewide, 64.5 percent of New Yorkers have done so.

Local clinics will be held Aug. 17 to 22, from noon to 7:30 p.m., at the Altamont Fair, and Aug. 28, from 1 to 4 p.m., at the Medusa Fest at 28 Route 351 in Rensselaerville.

Starting on Monday, anyone in an Albany County building is required to wear a mask.

On Tuesday, Saratoga Springs City Council approved a resolution urging “all citizens fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated, and unvaccinated to wear a mask when indoors with people who are not members of their household, in crowded outdoor settings, and when in activity with those who are not fully vaccinated.”

Also on Tuesday, McCoy released the first numbers detailing how vaccination status has affected infection rates.

Well over a third of the county residents infected with COVID-19 between Aug. 2 and 6 were vaccinated against the virus.

In those four days, 107 of the 260 county residents who tested positive for COVID-19 had been vaccinated while more than half — 142 — had not. Eleven didn’t have a known vaccination status.

McCoy also said that the “vast majority” of the vaccinated cases were young adults: 31 were in their twenties and 19 were in their thirties.

“Six vaccinated infections were from the 10- to 19-year-old age range,” said McCoy in a release. Vaccine is not authorized for anyone under age 12.

The county numbers are not surprising.

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.

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.

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.

McCoy’s advice on Tuesday echoed those thoughts.

“This confirms what health experts have been saying — the Delta variant is able to be contracted and spread by the vaccinated, which is why we need people to wear masks while at indoor public spaces,” said McCoy. “We also know that the vaccine dramatically reduces your chances of getting seriously ill and hospitalized, so I continue to urge people to get the shot if they haven’t already.”

 

Food help

On Tuesday, the state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance announced $200 million more in food assistance for August.

All New Yorkers enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will receive the maximum allowable level of food benefits for August. The agency is also working with the federal government to ensure these supplemental benefits continue to reach households in need through September and beyond.

Struggling New Yorkers continue to rely heavily on SNAP as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, according to a release from the office. As of June 2021, there were more than 2.8 million SNAP recipients throughout the state, a 1.9 percent increase from June 2020.

SNAP households already receiving the maximum monthly benefit, and those that had been receiving an emergency allotment of less than $95 per month, will receive a minimum supplement of $95. Nearly 1.6 million households in New York State will receive the supplemental benefits later this month, which will result in the state receiving roughly $200 million in federal assistance.

More Regional News

  • “While New York as a whole is showing signs of statewide COVID infections possibly hitting their peak, that is clearly not the case for Albany County as we report nearly 1,600 new positive cases in a single day, the highest increase we’ve ever experienced since the pandemic started nearly two years ago,” said Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy.

  • Two more Albany county residents — a man in his sixties and a woman in her eighties — died of COVID-19 on Wednesday, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy reported on Thursday morning. This brings Albany County’s death toll from the virus to 495.

  • New York State Capitol

    Starting on Monday, visitors to the capitol must be fully vaccinated or provide proof of a negative COVID test within 48 hours, the Office of General Services announced on Saturday. The office also announced that the Legislative Office Building will be closed until further notice “as a necessary precaution in response to the evolving COVID-19 situation.”

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