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ALBANY — Gov. Kathy Hochul looked backward and forward on COVID-19 Wednesday, announcing an autumn action plan for the stubborn pandemic and plans for a review of what the state did right and wrong over the last 30 months.
The move comes amid the spread through New York of new rapid-spreading variants of the disease. The rate of new infections is on the rise in many regions of the state and the hospital census is up 45% statewide in one month.
If viewed as a series of waves on a chart, the summer of 2022 has not provided the same degree of relief from COVID that the summers of 2021 or 2020 provided.
For the most recent seven days available, the state is averaging 7,500 positive tests per day, compared with 1,000 per day a year ago and 750 per day two years ago.
The difference is even greater than those numbers suggest, because they only count lab-confirmed infections, not the at-home COVID self-tests being used in great numbers in 2022.
A better indicator of the severity of the pandemic, if not the numbers of infections, is how many people wind up in the hospital with COVID.
On Tuesday, New York hospitals were treating 2,638 COVID-positive inpatients, compared with 424 on the same date in 2021 and 716 two years ago.
While 60% of the patients Tuesday were admitted for reasons other than COVID, suggesting their symptoms were mild, the numbers are trending in the wrong direction, prompting Hochul to announce precautionary measures.
“The fall’s quickly approaching … people start heading indoors. And kids are heading back to school,” she said at a news conference.
THE AUTUMN PLAN
Her administration’s Fall Action Plan for the pandemic includes:
- A return-to-school strategy that includes distributing 3 million test kits to schools before the 2022-2023 school year starts;
- Encouraging New Yorkers to test early and often;
- Getting vaccines and boosters into those who haven’t already received them;
- If necessary, re-activating mass vaccination sites, which were closed recently;
- Promoting access to treatment and therapeutic drugs for those who do contract COVID;
- Stockpiling 20 million test kits and tons of personal protective equipment;
- Strengthening hospital systems;
- Coordinating with federal and local government.
“We don’t currently, based on today’s numbers, anticipate the need for masks in classrooms, but I’m going to reserve the right to return to this policy. If the numbers change, the circumstances change, and the severity of the illnesses changes,” Hochul said.
Meanwhile, the state is requesting proposals for a one-year contract to conduct an after-action review of the state’s COVID-19 response to identify failures, successes, best practices and ways the state could improve its response.
It will be a guide for state and local governments in their response to future emergencies, the governor said.
The review will include the actions by Hochul and her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, that drew the greatest amounts of criticism and anger:
- Limits on non-COVID medical procedures;
- Guidance for admission to nursing homes and other group living facilities;
- Policies for shutdown of educational institutions;
- Factors by which businesses, industries and functions are deemed “essential”;
- Protection of the essential personnel who must work amid crisis.
Hochul said the review will be a lengthy process and won’t produce immediate results, but said it can’t be delayed until the pandemic is over.
“I thought we’d be able to launch this when the pandemic is gone,” Hochul said. “It is becoming clear to me that it’s not gone, so we’re not going to wait any longer to start some analysis.”
The uptick in infections and hospitalizations is blamed largely on a newer strain of COVID — BA.5, a highly contagious subvariant of omicron.
Once again, New York City and the four neighboring counties are the hardest-hit area of the state, with New York City averaging 51.8 positive lab tests per day per 100,000 residents over the latest one-week period.
The eight-county Capital Region is highest in the rest of the state, with 20.9 positives per day per 100,000 residents.
On Tuesday, 100 COVID-positive patients were being treated at Capital Region Hospitals, up from a recent low of 81 inpatients on July 1.
That compares with a one-day peak of 432 inpatients during the January 2022 omicron surge and 232 inpatients during the May 2022 mini-surge.
Some Capital Region hospitals have seen an uptick in their patient census this month, others a decline.
Ellis Hospital in Schenectady reported 11 COVID-positive inpatients Monday, which was up from a recent low of four but only a tiny fraction of its one-day peak of 90 in December 2020.
Dr. David Liebers, an infectious disease specialist at Ellis, said in a video update this week that the COVID patients now being treated at Ellis are typically less severely ill than those in previous stages of pandemic — none of the new patients were admitted to the intensive care unit, for example.
“The severity of the illness is something we have to keep an eye on,” he said. “We’re not sure about how the BA.5 variant is going to impact us.”
Liebers advised viewers to mask up in crowded indoor areas, even if the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has downgraded the community level of COVID to “low” or “medium” in every Capital Region and Mohawk Valley county.
The CDC counts New York City and the rest of New York State separately in its COVID data crunching.
As of Wednesday afternoon, New York City’s per-capita case rate was higher than any of the 50 states, while the rest of New York state’s rate was 39th-highest among the 50 states.
Hochul outlines autumn action plan to battle COVID – The Daily Gazette
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