Week CXXXV: As Omicron sublineage BA.4.6 gains ground, Evusheld is ineffective, FDA says

— Chart from the CDC
Sublineals of the Omicron variant: While BA.5 is still dominant in Region 2 — New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands — BA.4.6 is gaining ground.

ALBANY COUNTY — For the second week in a row, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has labeled Albany County as having a high community level of COVID-19.

This follows 13 weeks of being labeled with a medium level. CDC guidance is to wear masks in public when the level is high.

At the same time, locally and across the nation, a new sublineage of the Omicron variant is growing: BA.4.6.

Since Omicron emerged about a year ago, it continues to evolve with GISAID (the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data) documenting over 200 Omicron sublineages.

Because the World Health Organization named Omicron a variant of concern, all of its sublineages are too because they spread more easily than the earlier variants of the coronavirus and they can evade previous immunity.

In the CDC’s Region 2, which includes New York and New Jersey as well as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, BA.4.6 now makes up 16 percent of new cases. This is a marked shift from last week when BA.4.6 accounted for just 11 percent of new cases.

The bivalent booster was designed to combat BA.5 and BA.4.

BA.5 makes up about three quarters of the cases in Region 2 — down from 86 percent last week — and continues to dominate across the United States.

However, BA.4 now makes up less than 1 percent of new cases in our region.

Other Omicron sublineals in our area include BF.7 at about 6 percent of new cases, and BA.2.75, accounting for about 3 percent of new cases.

The federal Food and Drug Administration issued a warning this week that Evusheld may not work against BA.4.6.

Evusheld is the the only monoclonal antibody available, under emergency use authorization, for COVID-19 prevention for people who are immunocompromised or for people who can’t take the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Health care professionals should inform patients of this risk,” said the FDA release on certain variants not being neutralized by Evusheld.

Most of the counties in New York State are labeled by the CDC this week as having a “medium” community level. The nine counties tagged as “high” are: Albany, Broome, Clinton, Fulton, Montgomery, Orange, Oswego, Rensselaer, and Tioga.

The majority of counties in the rest of the nation, 77 percent, are labeled as having “low” levels with 20 percent at “medium,” and just 3 percent at “high.”

However, using the CDC’s original means of tracking community transmission of the coronavirus — a four-tiered system — low, moderate, substantial, and high — all but four counties in New York are labeled high. Kings and Queens counties in New York City along with Hamilton and Schuyler counties upstate are labeled “substantial.”

Nearly half the counties in the nation — 48 percent — are labeled “high” for community transmission with 27 percent called “substantial,” 20 percent designated “moderate,” and just 5 percent labeled with a “low” level of community transmission.

The CDC started the three-tiered system on Feb. 25, with the designation “determined by looking at hospital beds being used, hospital admissions, and the total number of new COVID-19 cases in an area.” 


County numbers

The governor’s office — on Oct. 6 and again on Oct. 11 — reported two more COVID related deaths this week. Albany County’s dashboard on Tuesday night, however, still reported a total of 583 COVID-related deaths: 281 males and 302 females.

This is the county’s 135th week of coping with the coronavirus.

Although figures on infection rates are no longer reliable since tracing and tracking systems have been disbanded, the state dashboard shows that cases statewide and in Albany County have continued to rise for the last two months.

Albany County, as a seven-day average, now has 21.1 percent cases per 100,000 of population, up from 19.1 last week, 19.7 two weeks ago, 17.1 three weeks ago, 16.3 four weeks ago, 17.0 five weeks ago, 17.3 six weeks ago, 17.9 seven weeks ago, and 19.3 eight weeks ago but down from 21.8 cases per 100,000 nine weeks ago.

This compares with 19.9 cases per 100,000 statewide, which is down from 21.4 last week, 23.4 cases two weeks ago and from 22.2 three weeks ago. But it’s up from 18.6 cases four weeks ago, although down from 21.1 cases five weeks ago, 23.0 six weeks ago, 25.6 seven weeks ago, and 30.03 per 100,000 of population eight weeks ago.

The lowest rates are now in the Finger Lakes at 17.55 and New York City at 18.08 cases per 100,000.

The highest count, as last week, is still in Central New York at 26.84, down from 27.65 per 100,000 last week, and 30.19 cases two weeks ago.

As of Oct. 7, according to Albany County’s COVID dashboard, the seven-day average for hospitalized COVID patients was 26.71, just slightly higher than last week’s 26.57, which was a bit down from two weeks ago at 27.29, but up from the average of 23.57 three weeks ago, and a marked increase from four weeks ago when the county’s seven-day average for hospitalized residents was 15.14.

On Oct. 7, 2021, leading up to the Omicron surge that peaked in January, 35.71 Albany county residents were hospitalized with COVID, as a seven-day average. In 2020, on Oct. 7, an average of only 4.14 patients were hospitalized with the virus.

About 39 percent of the Capital Region residents hospitalized with COVID this week were not admitted because of having the virus, according to a chart from the governor’s office.

The numbers for vaccination in Albany County haven’t budged for several weeks.

As of Tuesday, 61.7 percent of eligible residents had received booster shots, according to the state’s dashboard, while 75.3 percent had completed a vaccination series. This compares with 79.1 percent of New Yorkers statewide completing a vaccination series, up slightly from last week’s 78.9 percent.

New Yorkers are being encouraged by the state’s health department to get bivalent COVID-19 vaccine boosters from Pfizer-BioNTech for anyone age 12 or older and from Moderna for those 18 or older.

To schedule an appointment for a booster, New Yorkers are to contact their local pharmacy, county health department, or healthcare provider; visit vaccines.gov; text their ZIP code to 438829, or call 1-800-232-0233 to find nearby locations.

The state’s health department is also urging New Yorkers to get their annual flu vaccine as flu season approaches. The flu vaccine is recommended for almost everyone 6 months and older.


Workers’ comp

The Workers’ Compensation Board is continuing its webinars for workers who believe they contracted COVID-19 on the job, especially those who have missed time from work or are suffering from ongoing or “long-haul” symptoms.

Additional dates have been added.

Each one-hour session is to provide information on workers’ rights when it comes to filing a workers’ compensation claim and the cash and/or medical benefits they may be eligible to receive.

Registration is not required.

Upcoming sessions, scheduled from noon to 1 p.m., are on Wednesday, Nov. 9, and Wednesday, Dec. 14.

More information on COVID-19 may be found on the board’s website, including information on how to file a COVID-19 workers’ compensation claim, and a link to search for a board-authorized health-care provider.

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