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Essex County reports 1 new COVID death

Health Department says 17 residents have had “breakthrough” infections

The Essex County Health Department reported one new death from COVID-19 on Friday. For the first time ever, the department also reported the total number of people who have gotten COVID-19 post-vaccination.

The new death reported Friday was a person who was not a resident of Essex County but who had traveled here to visit family. The person was unvaccinated and had other risk factors for severe COVID-19, according to the county Health Department.

Details such as the person’s name, place of residency, age and where they were staying were not provided by the health department. This is not unusual. In the past, the health department has often cited federal privacy laws when asked for information the department feels might be “identifying.”

“While this death will not be included in the Essex County death totals, we wanted to share this information with the community because (the health department) was monitoring this case and their close contacts,” the department wrote in a news release Friday.

The health department also reported that since Jan. 17, a total of 17 Essex County residents — or 0.1% of the 21,799 people who are fully vaccinated in this county — have gotten COVID-19 post-vaccination. These “breakthrough” infections have happened with each of the three vaccines approved for use in the U.S.

The vast majority of new coronavirus infections across the country are among unvaccinated people. It’s rare for vaccinated people to get “breakthrough” infections, but when it happens, the vaccines largely prevent serious illness, according to the Associated Press.

Of the 17 “breakthrough” cases in Essex County, five people didn’t have any symptoms, 11 people had mild symptoms and one person was treated in an emergency room but has since recovered, according to the health department.

“Our local data confirms that breakthrough cases are uncommon, accounting for less than 3% of total cases since vaccinations began,” said Essex County Public Health Director Linda Beers. “Concerns over the Delta variant are valid, given that this strain appears to be causing more breakthrough infections than others; however, most of these infections are mild and the vaccines are still working very well at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations, and death.

“So our message continues to be, get vaccinated; it’s the best thing you can do to protect yourself and those around you,” she added.

In the last week, the county has reported 16 new cases of COVID-19 — including six in the town of North Elba and one in Keene — bringing the total number of active cases to 18, as of Thursday.

The number of new COVID-19 cases found across the country each day has quadrupled over the past month. With that increase has come a rise in the number of people being hospitalized or dying from virus-related complications.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance last week asking even those who are vaccinated to wear masks indoors in areas where there is a high level of community spread, meaning a high number of cases where the source of a person’s infection is unknown.

Essex County has “moderate” community spread and Franklin County, “low” spread, according to the CDC. Those who are unvaccinated must always wear masks indoors.

The highly infectious Delta variant is now the dominant strain of the virus in the U.S.

New research has shown that those who are vaccinated and subsequently infected with the Delta variant may be just as contagious as unvaccinated people, even if they don’t experience any symptoms, The New York Times reported Thursday. This contradicts earlier studies, which showed that vaccinated people who were infected with previous strains of the virus — not the Delta variant — were largely unable to infect others, according to the Times.

Essex County Health Department Program Coordinator Andrea Whitmarsh said earlier this week that the county doesn’t yet have data that could show the extent of the Delta variant’s spread — or even confirm the presence of it here — because test results aren’t reported with that information. However, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced this past Tuesday that the state would contract with five laboratories to expand its capacity for genetic sequencing, meaning that a higher number of COVID-19 tests could be more closely analyzed for specific variants.

The symptoms of the Delta variant are the same as other strains: fever, dry cough, difficulty breathing, muscle aches, fatigue, temporary loss of taste or smell.

Essex County residents interested in getting vaccinated against COVID-19 can visit www.co.essex.ny.us/health/make-an-appointment to find dates and times for vaccine clinics run by the county Health Department. Franklin County residents can call 518-481-1710 for more information about where to get vaccinated. Vaccine appointments can also be made at many local pharmacies.

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