Week CXLIII: After four months, Albany County falls to ‘low’ community level of COVID-19

— Map from the CDC
Most of the counties in the United States are now labeled as having a “low” community level of COVID-19.

ALBANY COUNTY — After 13 weeks of being designated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as having a “high” community level for COVID-19 followed by four weeks of being labeled “medium,” Albany County this week is designated as “low.”

Also this week, Albany County’s 143rd of dealing with the coronavirus, no new COVID-related deaths were reported — for the first time in 11 weeks. The county’s dashboard, as of Tuesday, Dec. 6, still shows a death toll of 600: 290 males and 310 females.

The weekly metrics the CDC used to determine the current “low” level are:

— Albany County now has a case rate of about 69 per 100,000 of population, up from 51 last week but down from 76 two weeks ago and 104 three weeks ago;

— The county has a COVID hospital admission rate of 9.1 per 100,000, down from about 14.6 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior; and

— The county has 5.1 percent of its staffed hospital beds filled with COVID patients, down slightly from 5.2 last week, 5.7 two weeks ago, and 6.3 three weeks ago.

Nationwide, 6 percent of counties are now labeled “high,” up from 4 percent last week while 25 percent are “medium,” up from 18  percent last week, and 69 percent are “low,” down from 78 percent last week.

In New York State, most of the counties are labeled “low,” followed by “medium.” Only counties on Long Island and in New York City have “high” designations.


Report: Rural living tough for old New Yorkers

A report released on Tuesday by AARP New York found that a lack of affordable and accessible housing in rural areas compounded with a lack of public transportation make it hard for old New Yorkers living in the country to age in place.

The housing problem has been made dramatically worse by the pandemic, the study found.

“Among the key challenges documented in this report are a lack of accessible housing, a lack of affordable housing, and zoning hurdles to creating safe, affordable housing,” the AARP report says. (AARP was formerly called the American Association of Retired Persons.)

“In transportation, we found a lack of public transit services, not enough funding for local public transit services and nonprofit groups, and difficulty in finding drivers,” the report says.

“Pandemic migration patterns have created a housing crisis that makes it harder, especially for older adults, to afford housing and confines many to unsafe, unsuitable homes because the alternative is institutionalization or homelessness,” says the housing section of the report, written by Mary Carney.

Ninety-six percent of the nearly 800,000 New Yorkers age 65 or older living in rural areas live in owned or rented houses with one-third living alone, the report says.

“These homes are often too large and costly for older adults to maintain over time, as costs to repair or modify homes increase and incomes remain fixed,” writes Carney, adding, “Few homes were built with accessibility in mind. Entryway stairs and narrow doorways make homes a worse fit for people as they age, limiting people’s ability to enter and exit their own homes independently.”

The pandemic brought new pressures to the housing market that have made paying the bills even harder for many older adults, the report stresses.

“In 2020, when school and business closures forced people to work remotely, there was a large influx of urban New Yorkers relocating to suburban and rural areas throughout Upstate New York,” the report says. “Buyers from New York City and other cities began renting and buying up properties, driving up housing costs in communities from the Hudson Valley to the Adirondacks …

“Rural counties across New York state saw the median sale price of homes rise from 8% to 42% between 2019 and 2021 …

“Rising home prices not only make it harder for people to buy homes, but could also lead to an increase in property taxes and rent prices if property values go up. A tight housing market places local, low-income people looking to buy or rent at a disadvantage.

“Landlords may discriminate against people with Section 8 vouchers,” the report says of federal funding for housing, and it is easier to do so when demand for housing is high.”

A major barrier to affordable rural housing are local zoning codes, which favor single-family dwellings, the report says.

“Developers who try to build affordable housing are often stymied by NIMBYism (“Not In My Back Yard”), encountering residents who use zoning regulations and the environmental review process to block projects,” Charney writes.

She goes on, “Zoning codes prevent many people from building Accessory Dwelling Units ADUs (ADUs), which is an umbrella term for the many styles of small apartments or houses that can be built on the same property as a larger residence. These homes could fit seamlessly into upstate New York towns and villages where lots are larger and there is plenty of parking.”

The report recommends easing the zoning laws to allow more “in-law apartments” or accessory dwelling units; increasing funding for the State’s Access to Home program that helps people with disabilities afford needed renovations and modifications so they can continue living in their homes; and more funding for the RESTORE program to fix plumbing, roofs, and other safety issues to create safe dwellings.

RESTORE stands for Residential Emergency Services to Offer (Home) Repairs to the Elderly.


Albany County COVID numbers

As of Nov. 30, according to Albany County’s COVID dashboard, the seven-day average for hospitalized COVID patients was 19.29, continuing a downward trend from 36.43 a month ago. Eleven weeks ago, the county’s seven-day average for hospitalized residents was 15.14.

About 32.7 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; that’s down from 36.7 last week.

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 are starting to rise again after leveling and dropping in November following two months of climbing.

Albany County, as a seven-day average, now has 13.5 cases per 100,000 of population, up from 8.6 last week, 8.0 two weeks ago, and 10.6 three weeks ago but down from 15.2 four weeks ago, which was a fairly steady decrease from 21.8 cases per 100,000 seventeen weeks ago.

This compares with 28.5 cases per 100,000 statewide, which is up from 18.4 last week, 19.0 two weeks ago, 18.8 three weeks ago, and 20.9 four weeks ago, which was another fairly steady decrease from and from 30.03 per 100,000 of population 15 weeks ago.

The lowest rates are in Central New York at 9.3 cases per 100,000 population, up from 6.58 last week. The highest count is now on Long Island at 44.7, a dramatic jump from 23.93 last week.

The numbers for vaccination in Albany County have hardly budged for several months. The state’s dashboard this week changed its reporting criteria and now reports on these two categories:

— People with a primary series, for those who have completed the recommended initial series of a given COVID-19 vaccine product — two doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine; and

— People who are up to date, for those who have completed all COVID-19 vaccinations, including the bivalent booster, as appropriate per age and clinical recommendations. 

As of Tuesday, just 17.2 percent of Albany County residents were up to date on vaccines as opposed to the 61.5 percent of eligible residents who had received booster shots, as reported in prior weeks.

At the same time, 75.9 percent of county residents had completed a primary series, up slightly from the 75.5 percent reported previously.

This compares with 76.1 percent of New Yorkers statewide completing a vaccination series, and just 10.6 percent being up to date with vaccinations.

The shift in the prevalence of Omicron sublineages has continued this week.

The once-dominant BA.5 now makes up about 14 percent of new COVID cases nationwide, with BQ.1.1 at about 32 percent and BQ.1 at about 31 percent.

In Region 2 — New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands — the spread of the new sublineages is even more pronounced.

For the week between Nov. 27 and Dec. 3, BA.5 now makes up just roughly 7 percent of the cases while BQ.1 is now dominant at roughly 38 percent followed by BQ.1.1 at 34 percent.

XBB is third at 9 percent followed by BA.5 and then BF.7, which makes up 4 percent; the other sublineages each make up 3 percent or less.

The bivalent booster shot was designed to combat BA.4, which is now almost nonexistent, and BA.5 — and so may still be effective against its similarly highly contagious descendants.

New Yorkers are being encouraged by the state’s health department to get bivalent COVID-19 vaccine boosters from Pfizer-BioNTech for anyone age 5 or older and from Moderna for those 6 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.

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