State metrics change as Albany County is on cusp of yellow zone

Elizabeth Whalen

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

“It is my fear and my likely projection that this is the start of a major upswing in cases and hospitalizations that we’ll see throughout December,” said Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen.

ALBANY COUNTY — On Tuesday, Albany County announced a record number of new infections — 159 — and also a record number of hospitalizations — 76 — as well as two more deaths from COVID-19.

At the same time, although the county had passed the former threshold for being declared a yellow precautionary zone, Albany County Executive Daniel Mccoy said that the new metrics announced by the governor on Monday have not yet been sorted out as applied to Albany County.

“New York State yesterday announced it’s updating the matrix that will qualify an area as a zone,” said McCoy. “We don’t exactly know where we stand,” he said, noting he’d learn more later in the day during a control-room conference when state leaders talk with local officials.

In describing his winter plan for battling COVID-19 at a press conference on Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo had said that the state’s health department will use metrics based on bed and intensive-care-unit capacity, staffing ratios, and daily hospital admissions to determine which areas qualify as micro-cluster zones.

A fourth level will be added to the current yellow precautionary, orange warning, and red zones: An emergency-stop level will put severe areas under New York Pause guidelines — which dictated the statewide shutdown this spring — to preserve hospital capacity.

McCoy on Tuesday repeated what he’d said on Monday, that parts of Albany County may go directly to a warning orange zone with more restrictions than a yellow zone. For Nov. 30, Albany County’s seven-day rolling average for a positive infection rate was 4.4; the day before it had been 4.1.

Under the old system, 10 consecutive days with a rate over 4 percent would have made Albany County, or parts of it, an orange zone.

Although, as of Tuesday evening, the state still had the original requirements for red, orange, and yellow zones posted on its website, Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whlaen said her department had not yet received written guidance on what the new requirements — for example, required testing at schools — will be.

McCoy said his feelings are mixed on the change in guidelines just as Albany County was about to become a yellow zone. “Part of me is glad,” he said, because he supports small businesses, like gyms, staying open and because it’s hard to enforce restrictions.

“The fact that we’ve hit a record number of cases per day and a record number of hospitalizations is deeply concerning,” said Whalen.

She went on, “It is my fear and my likely projection that this is the start of a major upswing in cases and hospitalizations that we’ll see throughout December.”

She added, “We have not yet seen the full brunt of what happened over Thanksgiving break.”

Whalen stressed, as did McCoy, “Small gatherings are really turning into the drivers of infections.”

She urged people to get tested and to take care of health issues like asthma, heart disease, and diabetes, which make cases of COVID-19 worse.

She said of the current surge, “They’re real numbers. They’re real people … A lot of these people are suffering. A lot of these people are sick. You don’t want to be one of these people so please act accordingly and protect yourselves and your family.”


Letter to Azar

Cuomo sent a letter on Tuesday to Alex Azar, the Trump administration’s secretary of Health and Human Services, reiterating three concerns he has raised since October on distribution of COVID-19 vaccines: lack of federal funds for cash-strapped states, the need for outreach to Black, brown, and poor communities without adequate health-care facilities, and problems with requiring identifiers that could lead to deportation.

When The Enterprise, in late October, asked the White House about these concerns, spokesman Michael Bars responded just to the last one.

“As we’ve already explained to Governor Cuomo, such information would only be used to support the unprecedented private-public partnership continuing to harness the full power of the federal government, private sector, military, and scientific community to combat the coronavirus and save lives,” Bars wrote in an email to The Enterprise.

Thursday’s letter, signed by 52 people besides Cuomo — largely leaders of minority organizations — was also sent to President-Elect Joseph Biden, New York State’s congressional delegation, and to members of congressional caucuses for Blacks, Hispanics, and Asian Pacific Americans.

In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Cuomo said that experts predict the vaccination won’t hit critical mass until late summer or September.

He went over the three problems itemized in the letter to Azar and said that, unless all communities are served with the vaccine, it will “impede the effectiveness of the entire vaccination program because the vaccination program only works if everyone is vaccinated.”


Newest numbers

Statewide, the positive testing rate, based on Monday’s results, was 4.96 percent, which includes 6.27 percent for all of the micro-cluster zones, Cuomo announced.

The Capital Region, of which Albany County is a part, continues to have relatively good numbers with a seven-day average of 3.47 percent. Of the state’s 10 regions, Western New York continues to have the highest rate, at 7.29 percent.

The Southern Tier continues to have the lowest rate at 2.69 percent followed by the North Country at 2.89 percent.

As of Tuesday morning, Albany County had 5,881 confirmed cases of COVID-19, McCoy said.

Of the 159 new cases, 11 are health-care workers or residents of congregate settings, 22 had close contact with someone infected with the disease, and 127 did not have a clear source of infection identified at this time.

There are now 910 active cases in the county, up from 884 on Monday. Currently, 2,370 county residents are under quarantine, up from 2,272. So far, 23,598 county residents have completed quarantine. Of those, 4,971 had tested positive and recovered.

There were six new hospitalizations to report overnight, and there are 76 county residents currently hospitalized from the virus — a net increase of four. The hospitalization rate is now 1.29 percent. There are now 12 patients in intensive-care units, up from 11 yesterday.

The two most recent victims of COVID-19 were both women in their nineties, bringing the county’s death toll to 160.

More Regional News

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.