There has been a steady rise in COVID-19 active cases throughout the state and the local region in July and August, but Westchester hospitalizations related to the coronavirus are beginning to rise.
As of Sunday, the county reported 2,793 active COVID-19 cases; however there are now 84 patients hospitalized, exactly four times the number compared to July 22, said County Executive George Latimer.
He surmised that the Delta variant combined with relaxation of social distancing and mask wearing, which helped the county achieve transmission rates at or below 1 percent this time last year have without a vaccine, have conspired to accelerate the caseload.
On Sunday, Westchester recorded a 3.2 positivity rate, with 154 new cases from 4,787 tests. On the seven-day average concluding Sunday, the county has recorded a 3.1 percent rate.
While 682,000 county residents have had at least one vaccine dose, that still leaves a significant piece of Westchester’s now one million residents vulnerable to COVID, Latimer said.
“So we’ve seen a steady increase and we’ve seen nothing yet that is a positive factor for us in terms of the speed of the infection,” he said. “It seems that nothing is slowing it down, it’s not flattening out by its own merit.”
The hospitalizations are a warning sign. Even as cases were rising through most of July, the likelihood of the virus landing someone in the hospital was relatively small. However, the jump in the hospitalization rate – now about 3 percent of those who have tested positive– has officials keeping an eye on where COVID-19 goes from here.
Although statistics are problematic, Latimer said compared to the two worst waves, the early high of more than 12,000 active cases in spring 2020 and last winter’s peak of about 11,500, Westchester is not currently facing dire conditions.
The best way to guard against the virus is through vaccination, Latimer said, although the county does not have access to numbers breaking down how many who are currently in hospitals from COVID-19 received vaccines.
“We’re still trying to convince people that vaccination is the best way to avoid the severest impacts of coronavirus, that mask wearing is the best way to prevent the spread of coronavirus and it really comes down to how seriously people take the virus itself,” Latimer said.
Because of the population increase in the recently released 2020 Census, the percentage of vaccinated adults dropped. Had the county been using the previous estimate of 967,612, its vaccination rate would be at 83 percent. When the Census results were released on Aug. 12, Westchester now has a population of 1,004,457.
The news out of Putnam County, although with about one-tenth the population of Westchester, was more encouraging. County Executive MaryEllen Odell said last week that guidelines developed by the state County Executives’ Association offer a three-tiered approach of strategies depending on a county’s infection rates, hospital bed availability and vaccination rate.
Currently, 78 percent of Putnam residents 18 years old and up have been vaccinated and COVID-19-related hospitalizations have remained between zero and three patients during the month of August, she said.
“Right now, based on the numbers from our Putnam County Department of Health, we are at the lowest level – Tier 1 – which calls for face masks for the unvaccinated,” Odell said. “If our infection numbers increase dramatically, and if our hospital system gets stressed, we could be looking at Tier 3 – face masks for all, vaccine proof for indoor dining and limiting gatherings to 25. It all sounds terribly familiar. We thought we were past this. But really, getting everyone eligible vaccinated is the only way out.”
There were 130 active cases in the latest weekly numbers released by the county on Aug. 19 with two hospitalizations. On Sunday, the state tracker showed that there were 14 positive cases out of 499 tests administered, for a 2.8 percent average. The seven-day rolling average in Putnam is 4.2 percent.
Since Aug. 13, Putnam has seen one fatality, and 94 since the start of the pandemic.
Westchester has had eight deaths from COVID-19 since July 22, and 2,303 over what is nearly 18 months.
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/