COVID-19 cases on the rise again

Local health officials are urging residents to stay cautious and get vaccinated against COVID-19 as local case numbers climb.

There has been a rise in cases across the county due to the highly-contagious coronavirus variant — the BA.2 omicron subvariant. New York state Health Commissioner Mary Bassett reported at a COVID-19 briefing last week that BA.2 made up about 42% of all COVID-19 cases in the state. Bassett said that while the new variant is more contagious than previous iterations of the virus, it doesn’t appear to cause more severe illness or evade vaccinations better than other variants.

Essex County reported 2,783 new cases throughout the omicron spike January — an average of 90 new cases per day, according to data from the Essex County Health Department. Coronavirus spread in the county slowed down through February. There was an average of eight new daily cases in the county in the first week of March. However, numbers have risen slightly in the past couple of weeks. The most recent data available from the ECHD, released on Monday, showed a seven-day average closer to 14 cases per day.

Franklin County also had a decrease in cases following the omicron wave. Franklin County reported 2,599 new cases throughout January, with a daily average of 84 new cases, according to Franklin County Public Health. In the first week of March, the county had an average daily count of 24 new cases. The last available data from the county, released Wednesday, shows a seven-day average closer to 15 cases per day.

Bassett said it’s “no surprise” that cases are climbing as pandemic-related restrictions are falling. However, Bassett said health officials don’t expect to see a “steep surge” in cases in New York from the new variant, which she said has shown less growth and dominance here than in the U.K. and European countries. Still, Bassett urged New Yorkers to get vaccinated and boosted in a statement Monday.

Hospitalizations remain low, according to the ECHD, though hospitalizations often lag behind case increases by a few weeks.

Franklin County is classified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as having a “high” risk COVID-19 community level spread, and Essex County moved back to a “medium” risk level from a low risk level this week. The CDC uses the classification system — based on COVID-19 hospital admissions, cases and the percentage of people with COVID-19 who are occupying hospital beds — so communities can make decisions about daily operations and precautions based on the local state of the pandemic.

ECHD Public Health Director Linda Beers said in a statement that residents who have a higher risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19 should still consider layers of precaution, “like limiting close social contact, mask wearing, and planning for testing and treatment should the need arise.”

People who were infected with omicron during the post-holiday surge of the variant might still benefit from natural immunity against the virus, according to the ECHD. The department said that vaccines should offer combined protection to prevent the kind of widespread spikes in cases seen during previous waves. Still, the department warned, keeping people healthy hinges on a community effort of getting vaccinated and boosted when eligible, getting tested after exposure to the virus or if symptoms develop, and staying home when sick.

“Remember, children younger than 5 are still not eligible for vaccination and our vaccination rates in youth under 12 remain lower than we’d like. It’s important to stick with layered prevention strategies to protect these groups, as well as others who are more vulnerable,” Beers said.

The Federal Drug Administration on Wednesday amended the emergency use authorizations for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines so that people 50 or over, and people with certain immune conditions, can get a second booster shot. The ECHD offers weekly vaccine clinics, and the department plans to incorporate the new booster regulations as soon as the state approves them.

To make an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccination or booster shot at the ECHD, go to www.co.essex.ny.us/Health/covid-vax-appointments or call 518-873-3500. To make an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccination or booster shot in Franklin County, go to www.franklincountyny.gov/residents/covid-19_guidance/index.php.


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