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As COVID-19 cases drop, local health leader still urges caution

People sign in to get COVID-19 vaccines at a clinic in late February in the North Country Community College gym in Saranac Lake, staged by the Essex and Franklin County health departments. (Provided photo — Chris Knight, NCCC)

The number of active cases of COVID-19 across Franklin County has continued to decline, but the county’s public health director is urging residents to continue following safety precautions to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

In the last month, Franklin County’s active case count has dropped from 154 cases to 44. The percentage of Franklin County’s population that has received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose has risen from about 33% as of March 26 to 39%, or 19,631 people, as of Monday.

As of Monday, Essex County reported 16 active cases countywide. Nearly half of Essex County’s population — 45.4%, or 16,937 people — had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Monday. That’s up from around 38% of the population as of March 26, before eligibility expanded to include every New Yorker over the age of 15.

The number of people who are completely vaccinated is much less in both counties: 14,959 in Franklin and 12,854 in Essex.

Franklin County Public Health Director Kathleen Strack said more data is needed before a correlation can be drawn between vaccines and dwindling case numbers.

“More time and data is needed throughout the North Country and in New York state to determine vaccine effects related to active case reduction,” she said. “Herd immunity is known to reduce cases. Those numbers are not yet attained in Franklin County.

“While we note the lessening of cases, diligence with mask wearing, social distancing and frequent cleaning (hands/surfaces) continues to be recommended to reduce illness.”

Strack said whether or not the downward case number trend continues is “yet to be determined.” Some residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 recently have said they’d been traveling. The health department is monitoring the county’s case rate now that spring break is over and there was generally no quarantine requirement for domestic travel, according to Strack.

Statewide, more than 4.9 million people had been fully vaccinated as of Monday, according to the state Department of Health. That’s about 24.9% of the total population.

New hospitalizations across the state and the number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 each day has been on the decline in New York recently. As of Monday, there were 4,118 people hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide, 22 people in the seven-county North Country region.

Nationwide, the number of new cases of COVID-19 is trending upward. There were 48,147 new cases of COVID-19 reported nationally on Sunday, according to the New York Times.

In New York, everyone over the age of 15 is eligible to get vaccinated. Teens ages 16 and 17 can only currently get the Pfizer vaccine, which is primarily dispensed at state-run clinics. To schedule a vaccine appointment at a state-run clinic, visit am-i-eligible.covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov.

Both Essex County, at www.co.essex.ny.us/health/clinics, and Franklin County, at www.franklincountyny.gov/residents/covid-19_guidance/index.php, post information on upcoming clinics online when doses are available.

Franklin County Public Health and the Essex County Health Department maintain lists of eligible people who are contacted to receive a COVID-19 vaccine if there are excess doses at a clinic. Any unused vaccines are used at the next clinic.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday that graduation and commencement ceremonies would be allowed effective May 1, with some restrictions on the number of people able to attend depending on the size of the venue and whether it’s outside or inside. Organizers of all events that exceed 100 people indoors or 200 people outdoors have to notify the county health department ahead of time and require attendees to show proof of a recent negative test or full vaccination.

Cuomo also announced that the state is allocating 35,000 vaccines for resident and non-commuter students of state universities and private colleges that plan to leave for the summer. The vaccines will be administered to students at state-run vaccine clinics on Long Island.

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