COVID-19 still a factor in almost 11K deaths in N.Y. this year – Times Union

While many New Yorkers this summer have returned to activities and gatherings reminiscent of pre-pandemic times, COVID-19 is still sickening and killing far more residents than another virus – the flu – did before March 2020, according to state and federal health agencies. 

About 10 to 20 New Yorkers are still dying daily from COVID-19,  and thousands more are currently hospitalized with the disease, according to the most recent data from the state Department of Health (DOH) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The state COVID-19 online tracker does not provide easily accessible daily, weekly or monthly death counts, only a total number of deaths by county, and other demographic data, since 2020. But according to the CDC, nearly 11,000 deaths in New York so far this year are listed as “involving COVID-19.” More than 23,500 people died with a coronavirus diagnosis last year, according to federal data that breaks numbers out by New York City and outside the city.

The state’s dashboard shows 2,538 New Yorkers were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Monday.

Just 54 people were hospitalized with the flu during the week ending June 25, the most recent influenza report available from the state DOH.

In the Capital Region alone, there are nearly 100 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, state data shows.

“Doctors and scientists are working to estimate the mortality rate of COVID-19, but at present, it is thought to be substantially higher (possibly 10 times or more) than that of most strains of the flu,” Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen said in an email.

“New Yorkers have worked hard to keep each other safe from COVID-19, and as we approach the fall, we must continue to use the tools at our disposal to prepare for any potential surges,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement Tuesday. “Make sure you and your loved ones are up to date on the vaccine and booster doses. Get tested if you have symptoms, and if you do test positive, talk to your doctor about potential treatment.”

Still, the virus is less lethal than it was at the start of the pandemic. At this point, most New Yorkers have some level of immunity — either through vaccination or previous infection — and there are several therapeutic treatments available in cases of severe infection, resulting in fewer deaths.

Close to 80 percent of all New Yorkers have completed a vaccine series, according to the CDC.

But since May, hospitalizations — and deaths — have plateaued at an elevated level that has some epidemiologists concerned.

“In addition, we still have a lot of COVID circulating in the community, and are currently at CDC designated ‘medium’ level classification,” Whalen said. “In these circumstances, I would urge awareness to make best decisions on preventive actions.”

Actual flu and COVID-19 levels are difficult to determine since milder cases of both illnesses are widely unreported.

Facilities are no longer federally required to report negative lab test results, so cases per 100,000 data is a more reliable metric to measure virus impact on a community than percent positivity, according to New York health officials.

COVID-19 cases are also greatly underreported due to the availability of at-home tests.

Hospitalization and death trends are the clearest indicators that COVID-19 is still a threat.

Nearly all who die of COVID-19 are elderly or have comorbidities, state and local health officials said. But while masking and social distancing appear to have dramatically curbed transmission of the flu, reducing flu-related deaths to historic lows, even in the winter, COVID-19 continues to multiply and mutate.

The latest omicron variant BA.5, which now represents more than 95 percent of the viruses in circulation, is also highly transmissible and has been bypassing vaccine immunity, according to health experts.

A new vaccine authorized in the United Kingdom targets two omicron variants and is expected to be authorized in the U.S. this fall.

County health officials continue to encourage community members to get booster shots as they become eligible and anticipate there will be further guidance from state and federal health agencies when the variant vaccines are approved.

“Protection provided by the current vaccine against symptomatic infection and transmission is less than its effectiveness against severe disease, vaccine protection can diminish over time, and currently circulating variants are able to better evade the immune system,” Saratoga County Health Commissioner Daniel Kuhles said via email. “For these reasons, it is important for individuals to stay up to date with their immunizations, especially as new vaccines become available.”