Albany County strives to avoid micro-cluster status, calls for volunteers

Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

“We talk every day about how we can do more with less …,” said Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen. “It’s not easy.”

ALBANY COUNTY — On Friday, Albany County announced another two deaths from COVID-19 and the health commissioner made a plea for doctors and nurses to volunteer for the county’s medical corps as new COVID-19 cases reach unprecedented levels.

A woman in her seventies and a man in his eighties died of the disease, bringing the county’s COVID-19 death toll to 147.

In addition to announcing the deaths, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy also announced 71 new cases, and said that 35 county residents are hospitalized with the disease, eight of them in intensive-care units.

The state has turned to a strategy of tamping down on micro-clusters with red, orange, and yellow zones — red being the most severe and yellow the least.

“We’re 125 miles away from Westchester County,” said McCoy. Westchester County has orange-zone status now with a positivity rate of 11.34 percent on Wednesday.

That means all schools have to teach remotely, there’s no indoor dining at restaurants, and certain high-risk businesses, like gyms and barber shops, are closed.

Albany County’s percent of positive test results was at 4.7 percent on Nov. 8 and at 5.4 percent on Nov. 9.

McCoy recalled how, eight months ago, Albany County watched the rising tide of COVID-19 cases from downstate “work it’s way up here.”

McCoy said of Albany County being declared a micro-cluster zone, with the added testing and restrictions, “We don’t want to get to that point.”

He pleaded, “Please, please help us help you.”

McCoy urged anyone who doesn’t have to go out to stay in. He urged people who have tested positive to be truthful about who they’ve been in contact with.

“We need people to stop lying to us,” said McCoy.

He urged towns, cities, and villages as well as private businesses to “go to alternative work schedules,” as the county has, and to have employees work remotely when possible.

Referencing the new state restrictions to not have gatherings larger than 10, and to have gyms, bars, and restaurants closed from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., McCoy said, “Do the right thing.”

Elizabeth Whalen, the county’s health commissioner, said that schools are bracing for what they will be required to do if micro-cluster zones are named in Albany County. Additional testing is required along with equipment, legal agreements, and laboratory capabilities, she said.

“Most of all, it requires people …,” said Whalen. “Our department is taxed to its limits.”

Whalen made a plea for doctors and nurses to join the County Medical Reserve Corps. She warned that volunteers might not get callbacks right away since manpower is so limited.

“There is a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done,” she said.

The county’s health department has two epidemiologists and the chief epidemiologist, Elizabeth Lewis, is working beyond the capacity of four people, Whalen said.

Although McCoy said the state would step in to help if a micro-cluster is declared in Albany County, Whalen noted, “Our state partners are taxed.”

“We talk every day about how we can do more with less …,” said Whalen. “It’s not easy.”

“I’m asking for the help of the public,” she said, so that her department can continue to do case investigations and contact tracing, which has been the cornerstone of controlling the spread of the virus.

“You all know what you should be doing,” Whalen told the public. “It’s a matter of translating that knowledge into action.”

She said of properly wearing masks — to cover mouths and noses — of washing hands and of staying six feet from others and not congregating, “We’re still seeing some deficits there, which is allowing COVID to spread through the community.”

Although there is a $1,000 fine for not wearing a mask in public, Whalen said, “We can’t have law enforcement every place to check and see that everyone is wearing a mask … The teeth behind it should be: You can save a life by wearing a mask. We’re seeing people die every day in this country by the thousands.”

 

Newest numbers

The positive testing rate in all of the state’s micro-cluster zones, based on Thursday’s test results, was 4.58 percent. Statewide, the positivity rate was 2.65.

The Capital Region, of which Albany County is a part, had a rate of 2.0 percent. Only one of the state’s 10 regions was below the once-targeted rate of 1 percent: The Southern Tier was at 0.9 percent. The Finger Lakes had the highest rate at 5.1 percent.

As of Friday morning, Albany County has 4,260 confirmed cases of coronavirus disease 2019.

Of the 71 new cases, 33 had close contact with someone infected with the disease, four reported traveling out of state, 25 did not have a clear source of infection identified at this time, and nine are health-care workers or residents of congregate settings.

Albany County has 1,554 residents under quarantine, up from 1,520. McCoy noted that is the highest number of quarantined residents since the pandemic started.

The five-day average for new daily positives rose to 70.8 from 67.6.

“Our five-day average of positive cases has again hit an all-time high,” said McCoy.

There are now 507 active cases in the county, up from 483 on Thursday. So far, 18,509 county residents have completed quarantine. Of those, 3,753 had tested positive and recovered.

Five county residents were hospitalized overnight. There are now 35 hospitalized with COVID-19, down from 37 on Thursday. The county’s hospitalization rate has gone down to 0.82 percent from 0.88 percent.

More Regional News

  • Once the state hits the 70-percent mark, the governor said, “We can lift the capacity restriction, social distancing, the hygiene protocols, the health screenings, the potential tracing. Masks will only be required as recommended by the CDC.” 

  • “Data show that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected some populations and placed them at higher risk, including those who are medically underserved, racial and ethnic minority groups, and people living in rural communities,” says the CDC, which awarded the state’s health department $34 million to address inequities.

  • As of Wednesday evening, 62.2 percent of Albany County’s residents had received at least one dose of vaccine as had 73.0 percent of county residents 18 or older. The number of residents attending the large points of dispensing or PODs run by the county has greatly decreased; this week, just 12 doses were administered at the county’s POD. The county has shifted its focus to community-based PODs.

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