Governor Hochul warns of ‘triple threat,’ urges shots

— Photo from NYS Governor’s Office

Governor Kathy Hochul got a flu shot at her press conference on Wednesday and urged others to do the same. As of Monday, she said, three million New Yorkers had gotten seasonal flu shots. The state has about 20 million residents.

ALBANY COUNTY — The symptoms are similar, but three different viruses — flu, COVID-19, and  respiratory syncytial virus — are circulating statewide.

Governor Kathy Hochul held a press conference on Wednesday morning to alert the public to the “triple threat” and to urge New Yorkers to get a seasonal flu shot as well as the bivalent booster, designed to combat Omicron sublineals of COVID-19.

“We’re launching a public awareness campaign so parents know the symptoms, what to do and how they can keep their kids safe,” said Hochul of RSV. “And these are the symptoms: fever, cough, stuffy nose, decreased appetite.”

She stressed that RSV services for health care are fully covered by insurance companies, including testing and treatment.

“RSV is something we see every season,” said the state’s health commissioner, Mary Bassett, noting that this year and last year the season started earlier than usual.

Bassett told the press that, with more people indoors this time of year, and with more people socializing and fewer people wearing masks, a rise in viral infection was anticipated. Covid restrictions during the last two years had kept viral infection rates lower than usual.

“While we await a RSV vaccine,” said Bassett in a release from her department, “we have two straightforward messages for parents and guardians: make sure your child is up to date on their COVID-19 vaccination, and get a flu shot for children 6 months of age or older.

“Even if your child does get sick, the effects of immunizations have been shown to lessen illness severity. If you are concerned about your child, speak with a pediatrician or other health care professional. If your infant was born premature or otherwise fragile, you should seek medical advice early.”

The same precautions apply for all three viruses:

— Wash your hands often with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds to protect yourself from germs and avoid spreading them to others;

— Carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60-percent alcohol to use when soap and water are not available;

— Do not cough or sneeze into your hands. Instead, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue;

— Stay home if you are sick; and

— Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth if you are symptomatic.

Flu season usually runs from October through May, and typically peaks between December and February. This year, the department says, cases started being reported in higher than usual numbers in September, and cases of laboratory-confirmed flu are increasing week over week with prevalence in the New York City area, the Capital District, and Central New York.

At Wednesday’s press conference, Hochul cited current hospitalization and death rates from COVID-19, greatly reduced from the original Omicron peak in January, and termed those rates “stable.”

However, she also said, “People are dying every day from COVID. It’s not over.”

She urged New Yorkers to get the bivalent booster shot, which she said was “specially tailored to variants out there now.”

The CDC is reporting that three Omicron sublineals — BQ.1, BQ.1.1, and BF.7, all descendants of BA.5 — are spreading.

While BA.5 now makes up not quite half of the cases in Region 2 — New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands — other sublineals are gaining ground.

BA.4.6 now makes up 10.9 percent of cases here and, of the three new descendants of BA.5, BQ.1 makes up 17.1 percent, BQ.1.1 makes up 11.3 percent, and BF.7 makes up 6.6 percent of cases.

The bivalent booster shot was designed to combat BA.4, which is now almost nonexistent, and BA.5, which still dominates nationwide but makes up just 49.8 percent of the cases in our region.

Hochul said the state had enough bivalent booster doses for 10 percent of eligible New Yorkers but only 7 percent have gotten those boosters. “What are you waiting for?” the governor asked.

She got her bivalent booster on Sept. 7 and got her flu shot at Wednesday’s press conference.

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