- In Putnam, two of the postcodes with a high number of cases are also among those with low vaccination rates
COVID-19 cases in the Lower Hudson Valley have steadily increased over the past month as the more contagious delta variant spreads statewide.
Following national trends, cases have increased in counties across the region, although hospitalizations and deaths have not kept pace.
“Ninety-seven percent of these hospitalizations are unvaccinated,” said Rockland County Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert. “Prevention with the vaccine works,” she said.
However, the persistent obstacle is “convincing for those who are still reluctant to get vaccinated. We wish there was a way to reach those who need to be reached and convinced. It is really a challenge,” a- she added.
Local providers have seen breakthrough cases among people who have been partially or fully vaccinated against COVID, although these cases have generally been mild, said Dr Mary Leahy, CEO of Bon Secours Charity Health System. The system includes Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, Bon Secours Community Hospital in Port Jervis and St. Anthony Community Hospital in Warwick.
“The people who were admitted were not vaccinated,” Leahy told the recent COVID patients to Good Sam.
The takeaway, Leahy said: Get vaccinated.
According to state data, cases are increasing in all corners of the Lower Hudson Valley:
- The seven-day average of daily new cases in Rockland on July 13 was 10.6; Sunday, the seven-day average of new daily cases was 15.6
- The seven-day average of daily new cases in Westchester on July 13 was 31.6; On Sunday, the seven-day average of new daily cases was 67.6.
- The seven-day average in Putnam for new daily cases on July 13 was 0.8; On Sunday, the seven-day average of new daily cases was 6.1.
- The seven-day average in Dutchess for new daily cases on July 13 was 6.4; On Sunday, the seven-day average of new daily cases was 17.9.
“There has clearly been an increase in COVID,” Westchester County Director George Latimer said in a briefing on Monday. “It’s a statewide increase, it’s a nationwide increase and we’ve seen it here.”
Regional seven-day positivity rates – cases confirmed on administered tests – are now all above 1% in the four counties after all hovering around 0.5% just a month ago, according to data from the state.
Even though emergency room visits for COVID symptoms are on the rise, hospitalization rates remain relatively low, Leahy said.
“The good news is that people come to the ER, for the most part they can be treated and released,” Leahy said. “We have come a long way. “
As of Monday, 21 people were in Westchester hospitals with confirmed COVID, Latimer said.
Five people in Rockland and six people in Dutchess, Tuesday, and two people in Putnam, last Thursday, were hospitalized with COVID-19.
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Dr Sandra Kesh, an infectious disease expert at Westmed Medical Group, said cases are still only a fraction of what they were during the worst times of the pandemic.
“I think the problem becomes when you still have more than half of the American population that is not fully vaccinated, there are still a lot of infections to work around,” Kesh said.
Delta variant hits the Hudson Valley
The state Department of Health confirmed this week that four cases of the Delta variant were detected in Rockland this month; a case of the Delta variant has been confirmed in Putnam. But the state only chooses certain samples to check for the Delta variant in PCR testing.
Dutchess officials are proceeding as if the Delta variant is here as it has been confirmed in neighboring counties, a county spokesperson said.
In a press conference on Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo said 72% of all positive COVID results in the state are linked to the Delta variant.
Only 0.15% of vaccinated New Yorkers were infected with the Delta variant, Cuomo said. He called the jump in cases a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
In Putnam, two of the postcodes with a high number of cases are also among those with low vaccination rates, Department of Health epidemiologist Alison Kaufman said.
“The vast majority of our cases, probably over 90%, are in unvaccinated people,” Kaufman said.
Dr Dial Hewlett Jr., Medical Director of Westchester’s Disease Control Division,said low vaccination rate mixed with the Delta variant resulted in an increase in the number of cases.
“And I think one of the things we want to focus on on the best defense against all of the variants is getting the shot,” Hewlett said.
Kesh said if a vaccinated person contracts COVID-19, they will likely have a mild or asymptomatic case.
“The question that often comes up to me is, ‘Well, what’s the point of getting vaccinated if these revolutionary infections can happen,'” she said. “I think from the start people have been looking for a black and white, all or nothing script, and that’s hardly ever true in medicine and certainly not in infectious diseases.”
Trusted partners boost vaccines
Westchester County received a federal grant of $ 3.76 million that would improve health literacy among residents most at risk of COVID-19, an initiative that would begin as soon as possible.
The health department will partner with Mercy College, community and faith-based organizations to develop an education plan for residents of parts of New Rochelle, Mount Vernon, Ossining, Peekskill, Port Chester, White Plains and Yonkers.
Some of the postcodes in these towns and villages have the lowest vaccination rates in Westchester. Organizations will identify 160 community members to speak with hundreds of other residents in an effort to convince them to get vaccinated.
“With this grant, we plan to make a difference in improving health outcomes from COVID-19 for residents who are sometimes left behind,” Health Commissioner Dr. Sherlita Amler said in a statement. “This grant will help us better serve people of color, those living in poverty and those with limited English proficiency.”
Dutchess officials have put up signs on the lawn with testimonials touting the vaccine in neighborhoods with low vaccination rates, according to the county.
In areas with high infections and low vaccinations, health officials have reported hearing that people believe they are now immune.
Leahy said having COVID, including treatment with monoclonal antibodies, does not guarantee complete immunity to the virus. “You would still benefit from getting the vaccine and more immunity.”
Rockland officials have said partnerships with trusted community organizations are key to getting the shots fired. When a pop-up vaccination clinic is hosted at a community center or local church, it builds trust, said Rockland County spokesperson John Lyon.
Pop-up clinics have been held in pantries in Haverstraw, yeshivas in Ramapo and other schools, Leahy of the Good Samaritan Hospital said. The hospital partnered with the county to host clinics during high school and college graduation ceremonies last month at Palisades Credit Union Park in Pomona, the baseball stadium that hosts the Rockland Boulders.
When a clinic is set up in a neighborhood, health service workers are also spreading the word, Ruppert said. In the village of Haverstraw, for example, workers visited barbershops and other local businesses to educate workers.
Meanwhile, a state-run vaccination site at Rockland Community College was closed last month. The Good Samaritan now hosts the clinic at the hospital.
Gone are the days of a clinic producing more than 1,000 vaccines, Ruppert said. But every shot counts – a clinic at the Palisades Center last Sunday resulted in nearly 40 vaccinations being administered, which Rockland officials have called a victory. Another pop-up, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, August 8, will be at the West Nyack Shopping Center on the first floor across from H&M. The Pfizer vaccine, which is licensed for anyone 12 years of age and over, will be given.
The county also has vaccination clinics several days a week at the Yeager County Health Complex in Pomona, Ruppert said. With many colleges back in session next month, Ruppert said the county was pushing to make vaccines available to residents traveling to other counties or states for school.
Ruppert said health officials always knew there would be hesitation after initial clamor for vaccines
“Maybe if the cases increase again, we’ll see more,” Ruppert said.
Kesh said patients who were initially hesitant are reaching out because of the surge in cases.
“This thing won’t go away until we vaccinate more people, it’s just the harsh reality,” Kesh said. “And I think some people are coming, I just hope they get there a little quicker.”