While COVID-19 cases are steadily rising again, health experts say the public should remain cautious about the current rise, but that is not yet cause for alarm.
In the last two weeks, the level of community in Suffolk County, as noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has risen from low, to medium and now high. The CDC recommends people wear a mask while indoors in public when society levels are high, even though there are currently no state or county mandates requiring it.
“I think caution is a good word for where we should be right now,” said Dr. Andrew Handel, an infectious disease expert at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. “We certainly see cases rising, which is not surprising. We know that is what this virus does. And we certainly see some mutations in the Omicron variant that allow people to be re-infected.”
Although vaccines are less effective at preventing infection now, they still help prevent serious illness, said Dr. Trade and added that there is less alarm now compared to when the Delta variant started spreading last summer.
Cases in Suffolk County have risen to their highest level since late January. An average of 810 cases were registered per day from 7.-13. May. By comparison, the number of cases a month earlier was from 7-13. April 335 pr. day.
However, the greater availability of home tests has made these daily figures less reliable as a full indicator of societal dispersal. The true number of positives is likely to be higher as people may not report a positive result at home. Still, the county’s positivity rate of 10% is on a seven-day average.
The mitigation of mitigation measures such as mask wearing, the infectivity of the various Omicron subvariants when the virus mutates, and the cyclical nature of the virus are probably all factors driving the increase, said Dr. Trade. The challenge remains that people are most contagious just before they become symptomatic or during the first day of symptoms.
“We all have the situation where we go to a party and everyone is fine and you get called the next day that someone at the party suddenly had a fever or sore throat and was tested and they are positive,” he said. han. “And low and behold, everyone in that party is now infected with Covid, and no one was symptomatic when they were actually at the party.”
Hospital admissions remain a key indicator when evaluating the large amount of Covid data. The number of patients admitted with Covid has been rising since early April, both across the state and in Suffolk. While it is rising, the number is still far away from the top seen during the previous three major waves.
A total of 179 patients were admitted with Covid in Suffolk on 14 May, and 47% of these patients were admitted specifically because of Covid. As hospitals test each patient for Covid, some end up testing positive when they are admitted for a different reason, which is why the state and county now separate these data.
At Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, the number of Covid patients recently rose back to double digits for the first time since late February. The hospital had 12 patients admitted with Covid on May 13, according to data released by the New York State Department of Health. New patients were admitted due to Covid every day from 5.-14. May. On May 6, there were eight patients admitted, the highest number of single days since February 5.
“Fortunately, at this point we are feeling very well prepared,” said Amy Loeb, CEO of PBMC. “We know what this looks like. … We tend to be in line with what the data shows, with what we actually see here on earth.”
Ms. Loeb said unvaccinated people tented to be the patients in the hospital because of Covid, who is most ill.
She noted that doctors have more at their disposal to treat patients now compared to earlier in the pandemic. For example, the hospital may offer monoclonal antibody infusion and an antiviral medicine called Paxlovid. And the greater availability of testing now is also a big boost in the overall response, she said.
While mortality is lower than what was seen earlier in the pandemic, there are still new deaths attributed to COVID-19. There were three fatalities reported in Suffolk on May 14, bringing the county to a total of 4,404 since the start of the pandemic. The latest data from the CDC shows a seven-day average of 263 killed per day across the United States, which is still well below its peak, reaching over 2,700 in late January and early February. The total number of deaths in the United States is now close to 1 million.
In a statement Monday, Gov. Kathy Hochul said she had called on Congress to pass additional federal funding to help states “unlock additional resources needed for future COVID-19 variants and increases.” She said the state has distributed more than 75 million home tests in recent months. She said Friday that she spoke with county leaders about the state’s ongoing contingency plans.
“We know that tools like vaccines, boosters, testing and treatment have been crucial in combating COVID-19, responding to variants, keeping hospitalizations down and saving lives,” she said.
Health experts continue to call for many of the precautions that have been repeated throughout the pandemic, starting with vaccination.
“Getting vaccinated and boosted is definitely the most important thing you can do if you are eligible,” said Dr. Trade. “If you have to hold an event or visit other people, doing something outdoors is the best way to do it to avoid getting infected. And if you want to be near a large group of people, you might want to “Consider wearing a mask while indoors. If you have any mild symptoms, it’s not a bad idea to get yourself tested.”
In Suffolk County, 76.2% of the total population is fully vaccinated. About 38.1% of Suffolk residents have received a booster dose, which is close to the state average of 39.1%.