CAPITAL REGION – The number of confirmed influenza cases across New York state and throughout the Capital Region continued to grow last week, state officials said.
Total lab-confirmed cases for the week ending Dec. 22 rose to 2,117, up from 1,230 the week before, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who issued a prepared statement urging flu vaccinations for everyone older than 6 months as soon as possible.
Confirmed cases were up in all Capital Region counties. Saratoga County, with 42 cases, had the most cases of any upstate county for the second week in a row.
“With an increase in flu cases in every corner of this state, I want to remind New Yorkers who have not been vaccinated against the flu that it is not too late to take this critical action,” Cuomo said. “Flu season is in full-swing, and as the number of cases and hospitalizations continue to rise, we must do everything we can to protect ourselves and our loved ones.”
With flu now widespread, Albany Medical Center, Columbia Memorial Hospital and Saratoga Hospital on Friday announced new visitor restrictions that will take effect Monday. The restrictions, which limit the number of visitors and prohibit children younger than 12 as well as those who are ill, went into effect last week at St. Peter’s Health Partners hospitals, Ellis Hospital and Bellevue Women’s Center, and at Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital in Schenectady.
Saratoga County Public Health Director Cathi Duncan said she didn’t have a good explanation for why the county’s case count is high, though she noted the presence of four urgent care centers and ready access to doctors for most county residents could be factors.
“We’re widespread, no doubt about it,” Duncan said. “If you look back, it’s only five more cases than at this time last year. But, fingers crossed, hopefully (it) won’t be as severe as last winter.”
Last winter, both locally and nationally, was among the most severe flu seasons in decades. That severity may have raised many people’s awareness, Duncan theorized. About 80,000 people died of the flu or flu-related pneumonia, the most common fatal complication, in the 2017-18 season.
The federal Centers for Disease Control reported on Friday that flu activity is increasing across the country, with 11 states, including New York, reporting widespread activity. That’s up from a week earlier when only six states, including New York, had seen widespread activity.
The season typically does not peak until February or later, but so far this season, New York has had 5,400 laboratory-confirmed cases in 58 counties; Hamilton County is one of just four counties with no confirmed cases last week. There have been 1,305 hospitalizations so far this season and one pediatric death.
Last week, State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker declared influenza is prevalent across New York state, which invoked a requirement that any health care workers who have not been vaccinated wear masks when in patient care areas.
In addition to getting a flu shot and staying home when sick, the Health Department recommends people practice good hygiene by washing their hands often and carrying an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.