Officials urge vaccination as COVID-19 cases climb

Two vaccine clinics planned in Tupper Lake

Nurse Gail Lautenschuetz draws a dose of coronavirus vaccine Feb. 25 at the North Country Community College gym in Saranac Lake. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

As COVID-19 case numbers remain high in the Tri-Lakes, public health officials continue to urge caution at holiday gatherings and encourage people to get vaccinated. Some local officials and regional hospital leaders are urgently pleading for people to get vaccinated to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed and to curb the spread of the virus.

“If people think they’re Superman, good. Good for you,” Tupper Lake village Mayor Paul Maroun said Tuesday. “But get vaccinated so you don’t give it to somebody else.”

Essex County Health Department Program Coordinator Andrea Whitmarsh said the North Country is still in an “active pandemic” phase and that “positivity rates are as high as ever.”

The rise in cases recently is similar to the rise in COVID-19 cases this area saw at this time last year. At that time, public health officials attributed the rise in cases to holiday gatherings. This year, the numbers of active cases are several times higher than in 2020.

“I think it’s a combination of gatherings, people being looser, and restrictions being looser,” Franklin County Public Health Public Health Educator Sarah Granquist said Tuesday. “This time last year, we had travel restrictions, quarantine mandates after travel, mask mandates and schools were remote.”

Whitmarsh said the county’s contract tracing efforts are showing a trend or larger household spread this year, which she attributed to the more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus.

“The most important trend we want residents to be aware of — especially before the holidays — is the trend of entire households being impacted by COVID when one person in the home gets sick,” she wrote in an email. “With the delta variant being so much more contagious, it has become more difficult to prevent illness/infection in families having close contact with one another, sometimes even when individuals are fully vaccinated. That said, vaccination still helps greatly in these scenarios — and remains very effective at preventing moderately to severely symptomatic infection, hospitalization, and death — which is why we continue to recommend COVID vaccination as the first line of defense.”

Glens Falls Hospital issued a press release Tuesday to say the total number of patients admitted is higher right now than at any time during the pandemic, and that the hospital is “past capacity.”

“With this spike happening now, we are all very worried about what is to come one or two weeks after the Thanksgiving gatherings, much less what may come in January,” Glens Falls Hospital’s Chief Medical Officer Howard Fritz said in a statement. “You should assume that any large gathering you attend will expose you to COVID-19, so always wear your mask. Remember, masks reduce your risk of becoming ill, but also your likelihood of making someone else sick if you are infected but not yet aware of the symptoms.”

On Tuesday, Adirondack Health Spokesman Matt Scollin reported that there were four people hospitalized with COVID-19 at Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake. One of them was on a ventilator, he said.

Local numbers remain high

Franklin County Public Health reported 36 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing the total number of active cases to 262.

Of these active cases, 51 are in Tupper Lake, 27 are in Harrietstown and 81 are in Malone.

“I’m begging with everybody to get vaccinated,” Maroun said Tuesday. “If you’re not worried about yourself, that’s one thing, but your family, your friends, older people, people who might be more susceptible to illness. You can give it to them and they could die from it.”

After the Thanksgiving holiday last year, Tupper Lake became the COVID-19 epicenter of Franklin County, despite it having the third-largest population, as per the 2010 U.S. Census.

There’s been spread of the virus in Franklin County prisons. Franklin Correctional in Malone is now reporting that 12 inmates have the virus and Franklin County Jail in Malone is reporting two positive cases.

In total, 25 people have died in Franklin County from COVID-19, according to FCPH.

On Monday, Essex County Public Health reported 64 new cases since its last report on Thursday, bringing the total active number of cases to 122.

Of these new cases, 10 were in North Elba, two were in St. Armand and one was in Wilmington.

There are four active cases reported at the Federal Correctional Institute at Ray Brook prison.

In total, 40 deaths in Essex County have been attributed to COVID-19.

The number of new cases has spiked slightly in the past three weeks, despite being high all through the fall. Both counties have recorded around as many cases in the first 23 days of November as they had in all of October, with one week left in the month.

Franklin County Public Health reported 734 new COVID-19 cases in October. The county has reported 727 so far in November. The Essex County Health Department reported 464 new COVID-19 cases in October. The county has reported 469 cases so far in November.

Last year, by Nov. 1, Franklin County had seen a total of 183 positive cases all year, reporting only 19 new cases in the month of October. In the first 23 days of November 2020, the county tallied 161 more cases, nearly matching the total from the previous eight months.

Vaccine results

Granquist said since the county started recording the vaccination status of new COVID-19 positive cases in July, 55.5% of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 have been unvaccinated, 34.58% have been vaccinated and the rest have an unknown vaccination status.

“You are 11 times — 11 times — more likely to die from COVID-19 as an adult if you are not vaccinated,” Robert Reeves, a doctor with Irongate Family Practice in Glens Falls said in a statement. “I simply can’t put it any other way; you owe it to yourself and those you love to get vaccinated.”

“Boosters and an overall increase in the percentage of residents vaccinated has likely helped keep hospitalizations manageable,” Whitmarsh wrote.

In September, one-quarter of positive cases reported to ECHD were fully vaccinated individuals, Whitmarsh said. In October, that increased to 39%.

“It’s important to note, these infections represent a very small proportion of all vaccinated individuals,” Whitmarsh wrote.

According to data from the state Department of Health, as of Nov. 15, 1.2% of fully-vaccinated people 12-years or older experienced “breakthrough” COVID-19 cases — when someone who is vaccinated subsequently tests positive for the virus. She said hospitalizations of vaccinated people remain very low, with 0.08% of fully-vaccinated people 12-years or older being hospitalized for COVID-19.

Vaccine clinics

Franklin County Public Health plans to hold vaccine clinics on every Thursday in December. The majority of these will be in Malone, but on Dec. 30, FCPH will hold a Pfizer booster clinic in Tupper Lake at Holy Ghost Academy, 40 Marion St., from 2 to 6 p.m. This clinic will be for ages 18 and up. FCPH said drop-ins are welcome, but there will be a limited number of doses and priority will be given to those who pre-register.

Registration links have not yet been issued for these clinics.

A pediatric vaccine clinic will be held in Tupper Lake in the L.P. Quinn Elementary School gymnasium, at 25 Chaney Ave., on Monday.

The clinic, organized through Adirondack Health and Hudson Headwaters Health Network, will give children between the ages of 5 and 11 doses of the Pfizer vaccine from 3:30 to 6 p.m.

“(The) vaccine will be available with no out-of-pocket costs to all,” Adirondack Health Marketing Manager Steve Bradley wrote in an email. “Children who have health insurance cards should bring them, but no child between 5 and 11 years of age will be turned away, regardless of school district, county of residence, or insurance status.”

Bradley said the clinic will be first-come, first-served. He said light refreshments will be provided, but children should eat prior to arrival.

“Pediatricians from Adirondack Health and Hudson Headwaters Health Network will be present to answer any questions parents or children may have about the vaccine,” Bradley wrote.

Whitmarsh said it is unclear when the area will be out of an “active pandemic” phase.

“It is hard to predict when we will reach a ‘post-pandemic’ phase, as this is a new virus and we don’t have historical data to tell us what levels would be considered ‘normal’ or ‘expected’ viral activity levels,” she wrote.


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