If infection rate holds, yellow zone is six days away

ALBANY COUNTY — Two more county residents have died of COVID-19 and the county is in its fourth of 10 consecutive days of meeting a threshold that would declare it a precautionary yellow zone.

If Albany County continues to have a rolling seven-day average of 3 percent or higher for another six days, a yellow zone — the least restrictive of three micro-cluster designations — will be declared.

Yellow-zone restrictions include half capacity for houses of worship, indoor and outdoor restaurant dining limited to four people at a table, a limit of 25 people at non-residential gatherings, and residential gatherings of no more than 10 people — which is required statewide by executive order. 

Also, schools in a yellow zone remain open but have to test 20 percent of students and staff weekly for COVID-19.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Tuesday that restrictions are being loosened in orange and red zones for students in kindergarten through eighth grade; those schools can reopen in five days once specific testing requirements are met.

The state makes the designation based on data that is not publicly available; the goal is to focus on clusters of infection rather than forcing regional or state-wide shutdowns.

“We’ll likely look at individual locations, ZIP codes, or neighborhoods when establishing these zones, which comes down from the state, has nothing to do with us,” said Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy.

“My heart breaks for you,” said McCoy to the families of the newest victims as he made the announcement Wednesday morning.

A woman in her sixties and a man in his seventies succumbed — neither was associated with a nursing home.

This brings the county’s COVID-19 death toll to 150.

McCoy also announced 109 new cases of COVID-19 and noted that the 1,749 cases since Nov. 1 were more than a third of all the county’s cases since the first cases on March 12.

Climbing rates

McCoy and Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen both noted that infections in the county started climbing steeply at Halloween.

“We are pleading with you,” said McCoy. “Please help us get through this.”

He also said, “It’s gonna get worse before it gets better” and that more people would die if residents don’t do the right thing.

As always, McCoy urged residents, whether symptomatic or not, to get tested.

“I have a feeling people are getting tested just so they can go to Thanksgiving dinner,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you’re safe.”

Whalen again explained why a negative test result isn’t a “get-out-of-jail-free card.”

The incubation period for COVID-19 is two to 14 days, she said. As the body is starting to mount an immune response, symptoms are not immediately apparent and a test may come back negative. During this time, virus is shed, which can infect others.

So avoiding exposure to others while getting tested — the combination of those two things — is required for “some reassurance,” said Whalen.

“There’s no guarantee,” she said.

She recalled how, around Halloween, she had noted each infected person, on average, will infect two to four people. The exponential spread that started after Halloween has produced higher rates of infection than Albany County had previously experienced before the curve was flattened with the statewide shutdown last spring.

Thanksgiving, Whalen said, “could be the start of our next exponential growth curve if we don’t appropriately adopt mechanisms for control.” Those include hand-washing, mask-wearing, and social distancing.

She concluded, “This is entirely dependent on you.”

Whalen shared this message for Thanksgiving: “Protect those you are thankful for, and that is the real meaning of Thanksgiving.”

She also shared “a little good news”: The quarantine period — currently 14 days — may be shortened if individuals who are quarantined get tested.

Whalen noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have not formalized this evolving knowledge into guidelines and that the guidance from New York State’s health department tends to be conservative.


Newest numbers

Statewide, the positive testing rate reported by the governor on Wednesday morning was 3.62 percent; this includes the micro-cluster zones at 5.28 percent.

While Albany County is heading in the direction of being declared a yellow zone, the Capital Region as a whole is doing much better with a seven-day average of 2.25 percent.

As of Wednesday morning, Albany County has 5,279 confirmed cases of COVID-19, McCoy announced.

Of the 109 new cases, 19 had close contact with someone infected with the disease, one reported traveling out of state, 84 did not have a clear source of identified infection at this time, and five are health-care workers or residents of congregate settings.

Currently, 2,452 county residents are under quarantine, up from 2,247. The five-day average for new daily positives increased to 93 from 88.6. There are now 918 active cases in the county, up from 863 yesterday.

So far, 21,570 people have completed quarantine. Of those, 4,361 had tested positive and recovered.

Forty-one county residents are currently hospitalized, with 10 in intensive-care units. The county’s hospitalization rate stands at 0.77 percent.

Since Nov. 1, McCoy said, 92 residents were hospitalized, which is nearly 20 percent of all the hospitalizations since the first cases on March 12.

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