Another COVID death, increased hospitalizations in Essex County

Essex County has recorded its 42nd COVID-related death and county health officials say hospitalizations are increasing in the area.

The Essex County Health Department reported another COVID-related death on Thursday, bringing the total number of COVID-related deaths countywide to 42.

“The individual was sick with COVID-19 and other underlying medical conditions before passing away in their home,” ECHD Program Coordinator Andrea Whitmarsh wrote in an email. “They were unvaccinated.”

The health department is urging people whose COVID-19 symptoms are worsening or can’t be managed at home to contact their healthcare provider before they turn deadly.

“Emergency warning signs that require prompt medical attention include difficulty breathing, persistent chest pain or pressure, inability to stay awake, or bluish lips or face,” Whitmarsh wrote.

On Thursday, the county reported 88 new cases of COVID-19 since its last update on Monday, with about 30 new cases found each day. There were 155 active COVID-19 cases in Essex County as of Thursday.

Of the new cases, 11 were in North Elba, six were in Jay and five were in St. Armand.

“We are seeing a significant uptick in hospitalizations, in people of all ages, across the region and right here in Essex County,” Whitmarsh wrote. “We urge you to recommit to layered prevention strategies such as mask wearing when indoors, testing before and after gathering, hand washing, physical distancing, and most importantly — vaccination.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 5 years old or older get vaccinated against COVID-19. Those 18 years old and older are now eligible for booster shots if it’s been six months since their last dose.

Last week, Whitmarsh said the North Country is still in an “active pandemic” phase.

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 number of active cases is several times higher than in 2020.

Last year, Essex County had 27 active COVID-19 cases on Dec. 4.

Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake reported four people hospitalized there with COVID-19 on Friday. Two were on ventilators.

Elective surgery update

On Friday, the state released more details about a new executive order that could possibly limit elective surgeries at hospitals like Adirondack Medical Center and the Lake Placid Health and Medical Fitness Center if there’s an influx of COVID-positive patients that reduces the number of available staffed beds to 10% or fewer.

“It does seem like there is more flexibility this time around,” Adirondack Health spokesman Matt Scollin said. “Based on the metrics the DOH is looking at, we feel fairly confident we should be able to continue elective procedures.”

When elective surgeries were cut for three weeks last year, Adirondack Health lost out on millions of dollars in revenue — at a rate of around $70,000 per day, Scollin said. Adirondack Health relies on these revenues to sustain its services. Adirondack Health CEO Aaron Kramer recently said the hospital network was able to recover some of that revenue — the hospital was given some funding when Congress passed coronavirus relief packages last year — but has never been able to make up for that lost time.

Last Friday, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed an executive order allowing the state to again limit elective procedures at any hospital that sees an influx of patients and has 10%, or less, of staffed beds left open.

The order took effect Friday. The state’s first round of determinations will be issued by Monday and will apply to procedures scheduled to occur on or after Thursday.

Scollin said the state will make its determinations based on data Adirondack Health sent on Thursday. The staffed bed rate fluctuated hour-by-hour. At 5 p.m. Scollin said there were 41 staffed beds with 31 occupied — meaning about a quarter of their staffed beds were still available.

Scollin said AMC’s percentage of open staffed beds ranged from 12 to 19% earlier this week, when there were more people hospitalized with COVID-19.

Hochul said she passed this executive order to keep bed capacity available if COVID-19 hospitalizations surge.

“New York is now experiencing COVID-19 transmission at rates the state has not seen since April 2021, and the rate of new COVID-19 hospital admissions has been increasing over the past month to over 300 new admissions a day,” the state Department of Health’s guidance reads.

The guidance, released Friday, says the state also has the authority to stop elective procedures at hospitals in “high risk regions” even if they are individually still above the 10% threshold. The state said this is to prepare for possible surges of COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Scollin said the North Country is one of the high risk regions, but he added that the DOH is working with facilities individually, too, to assess their surge capabilities.

“DOH has certainly shown a willingness with this most recent guidance to try and work with hospitals,” he said.

Any hospital deemed eligible would have its elective surgeries reduced for at least two weeks. If a hospital rises back above its capacity threshold, it can be let out of the elective surgery ban. The order currently lasts until Jan. 15, 2022.

Non-elective procedures that would still be allowed would be ones involving cancer, including diagnoses; neurosurgery; “intractable pain;” highly symptomatic patients; transplants; trauma; cardiac with symptoms; limb threatening vascular procedures; dialysis vascular access; and patients that are at a clinically high risk of harm if their procedures are not completed.

Last time, Scollin said Adirondack Health created a surgical review committee with doctors, nurses and clinical staff who would look at all possible surgeries in the coming days and decide which ones were medically urgent and which weren’t. He said the hospital could have been in big trouble with the state if it didn’t follow its rules on what was urgent and what wasn’t. This committee would be restarted if the state deems it necessary, he said.


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