On Christmas Eve, county breaks record for new COVID cases and four more die

— Photo from Albany International Airport

Travelers go to the information desk at Albany International Airport to gather COVID-19 testing kits on Thursday, the first day that the airport offered the kits. 

ALBANY COUNTY — “The numbers are very alarming and very high,” said Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy on Christmas Eve morning as he announced four more deaths from COVID-19 as well as a record-breaking number of new cases: 269.

That number soared over the former high of 228 positive test results in a single day.

Nationwide, the number of new daily cases has risen five-fold since Labor Day. Twenty-thousand Americans died of COVID-19 this past week.

Four men are the latest county residents to succumb to the disease: two were in their fifties — one without underlying health conditions; one was in his sixties, and one was in his seventies, McCoy said.

The county’s COVID-19 death toll now stands at 200. Before Nov. 24, Albany County had suffered 148 deaths from the virus, which started locally in March. In just the last 30 days, 52 county residents have died from the disease.

McCoy — calling the new numbers “all records I’m not proud of” — also announced that 3,302 county residents are currently under quarantine, the most so far.

“Our numbers are going to continue to grow with people traveling and having gatherings,” said McCoy.

There are now 106 county residents hospitalized with COVID-19, with 14 admitted overnight. Twenty-two of those hospital patients are under intensive care.

At the beginning of December, 46 percent of ICU beds here were available; now, 22 percent are available, McCoy said.

The biggest worry, he said, is not having enough hospital staff to care for those occupying the beds. He described a “domino effect” with workers falling ill.

Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen recalled how, at Thanksgiving, she had talked about the possibility of “a surge upon surge.”

“We’re there,” she said at the Christmas Eve press conference. “We’re seeing an exponential rise in cases that we were afraid of on Thanksgiving.

Whalen noted that, for the last nine months, her staff has worked seven days a week and are under “tremendous strain” with the added number of cases.

“We have expanded staff,” she said, and the state now does most of the contact tracing while her staff does case investigation, calling residents who have tested positive for COVID-19.

She urged residents who have received positive test results to check the county’s website for information while they wait to be called by the health department.

The department is now going to be helping with vaccinations as well, which Whalen termed “a herculean effort.”

Albany Medical Center has been named the vaccination hub for the eight-county Capital Region. The vaccine planning, said Whalen, was always going to be a joint effort with hospitals, private practices, law enforcement, and emergency management pooling resources.

Like McCoy, Whalen stressed, “It will take a long time before we can vaccinate the general public.” About three-quarters of the public must be vaccinated before normal life can resume, which experts are estimating won’t be until fall.

Vaccines are being administered in a tiered system. Residents of Shaker Place, the county’s nursing home, started getting their first doses of the vaccine on Monday. McCoy said that workers at Shaker place started getting vaccinated on Wednesday.

He had said earlier that about 100 — less than half the workforce — had agreed to get the shots.

“I wish more would have gotten vaccines,” McCoy said on Thursday.

“It’s an easy virus to catch,” said Whalen.

She noted that people of all ages — including some in their twenties — are hospitalized with COVID-19. Whalen also noted that a few of the county’s recent COVID-19 deaths have been of people in their fifties.

Whalen urged residents, “Stay home to protect yourself. Stay home to protect your family. Stay home to protect the community. Every single one of us has individual responsibility.”

She also said, “It’s a difficult message to give on Christmas … But it is a necessary message. Be thankful for who you have. Honor who you have, and do the right thing.”

McCoy added, protect the people you love by staying away.”


Newest numbers

As of Thursday morning, Albany County has had 9,955 confirmed cases of COVID-19, McCoy said.

Of the 269 new cases, 224 did not have a clear source of infection identified, 38 had close contact with someone infected with the disease, and seven are health-care workers or residents of congregate settings.

The five-day average for new daily positives increased to 219 from 200.8. There are now 1,430 active cases in the county, up from 1,414 on Wednesday.

The number of people under mandatory quarantine increased to 3,332 from 3,052. So far, 33,460 people have completed quarantine. Of those, 8,525 had tested positive and recovered. That is an increase of 237 recoveries since Wednesday.

Statewide, based on Wednesday’s test results, the infection rate was 5.45 percent, according to Thursday’s release from the governor’s office. The Capital Region had a positivity rate 7.48 percent, the highest it has been.

Among the state’s 10 regions, the Mohawk Valley continues to have the highest rate, at 8.71 percent, while the Southern Tier continues to have the lowest rate, at 2.66 percent.

The Capital Region currently has 393 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, which is 0.04 percent of the region’s population and leaves 24 percent of its hospital beds available. Statewide, 0.04 percent of New Yorkers are hospitalized with COVID-19, and 30 percent of hospital beds are available.

The Capital Region has 220 ICU beds of which 186 are currently occupied, leaving 20 percent available. Statewide, 30 percent of ICU beds are available.

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