Westchester officials are warily keeping an eye on the persistent uptick in COVID-19 cases and infection rates, but a reporting change recommended by the federal government could at least be partly responsible for the uptick.
The active caseload as of Sunday was reported to be 3,102 in the county, well over three times the total of 925 precisely a month earlier. The infection rate on Sunday was 9.2 percent in Westchester, the seventh consecutive day of it being at least 6 percent and the highest single-day figure since Jan. 20, according to the state’s COVID-19 tracker.
County Executive George Latimer said Westchester’s Health Department and his administration are monitoring to see not only where caseloads and infection rates are headed but COVID-19-related hospitalizations and fatalities, possibly fueled by the BA.2 subvariant.
“We are looking at a rise in cases,” Latimer said Monday afternoon. “That rise in cases is a significant rise but it has not yet reached the point of criticality. When does that point come? That point may come when we break 5,000 or 7,000 active cases, but it is more important when we wind up breaking the number of hospitalizations at a certain level.”
While there has been a rise in COVID-19-related hospitalizations during the last month that increase appears minor. As of last weekend, there were 52 hospitalizations, up just 15 from a month earlier.
News about fatalities in the county are even better. So far this month there have been just two deaths from the virus.
On Sunday, the statewide positivity rate registered 7.3 percent, but just 5.1 percent on the seven-day rolling average. Westchester’s seven-day average through Sunday was 6.9 percent.
Putnam County clocked in on Sunday with an even higher figure, 10.3 percent, the highest in the seven-county Mid Hudson region, and 7.3 percent on the weeklong average. It is the first time that Putnam has cracked the double-digit mark since Jan. 23.
The state, citing a reporting policy change by the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), recently reported that the most reliable metric to measure community impact is cases per 100,000 data, not positivity rate.
On Apr. 4, HHS no longer required testing facilities that use COVID-19 rapid antigen tests to report negative results. As a result, the state’s positivity rate will be computed using only lab-reported PCR results. Positive antigen tests will still be reported to the state and reporting of new daily cases and cases per 100,000 will continue to include both tests.
“Due to this change and other factors, including changes in testing practices, the most reliable metric to measure virus impact on a community is the case per 100,000 data – not percent positivity,” the state website stated.
On Sunday, that number statewide was 21.98. By comparison, on Apr. 12 it was 33.50 and on Apr. 6 it was 29.60.
Hochul said vaccines remain the best way for the state and the public to guard against the virus regardless of the number of positive tests.
“The vaccine and booster are our best tools to protect ourselves from COVID-19 and keep the numbers down,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement Monday. “As the two new and highly contagious variants continue to circulate, make sure you are getting tested, and if you test positive, please stay home and consult your doctor on available treatments. Be smart, wear your mask if you’re around vulnerable family members and think it’s necessary, and make sure the friends and family you are spending time with are vaccinated and boosted if eligible.”
Latimer said that in Westchester he is not planning any drastic changes or impose mandates.
“We are seeing an uptick. We’re watching carefully,” Latimer said Monday afternoon. “If we reach some point in the future where future action is taken, we reserve the right to take that action but we have no philosophical plan to close society.”
On Monday, it was announced that Hochul had extended the state’s emergency for the purpose of allowing governmental bodies to operate in person or virtually. Latimer said that municipalities will be allowed to pass a local law between now and July 1 to make the option allowable on a permanent basis.
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/