Capital Region

Rise in COVID cases overwhelm region contact tracing; Numbers likely tied to Thanksgiving, doctor says

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CAPITAL REGION — With C0VID-19 cases at the highest level since the pandemic started, Saratoga County officials say their case investigation and contract-tracing system is becoming overwhelmed, and they will start prioritizing tracing in some cases over others.

No two cases are the same, said Dr. Daniel Kuhles, the Saratoga County health commissioner: Some investigations are quick and easy, but others require extensive effort just to get basic information or overcoming resistance to giving contacts.

“It’s a little like the emergency room, where you never know what’s going to come in,” he said on Tuesday.

With Saratoga County seeing close to 100 confirmed cases per day at the end of last week, and a record 101 on Monday, county officials announced that that their contact tracing system is struggling to keep up, and cases that put people most at risk will be prioritized.

“We are not alone in this. I think we are getting challenged in the same way as health departments across the state and across the nation,” Kuhles said.

The county’s Public Health Services has 23 contact tracers, and plans to hire more to try to stay on top of the caseload. It will also use state Department of Health-supported virtual investigators and streamline internal processes, Kuhles said. But it will also prioritize some cases, following guidance from DOH and the federal Centers for Disease Control.

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The new guidelines give priority to cases reported within six days of onset of symptoms, when contacts are still recent. Contacting priority will go to household contacts; people living, working or visiting congregate living facilities; high-density workplaces or other settings with potential for extensive transmission; and for people like healthcare providers, emergency medical services personnel, and firefighters who provide services to people at increased risk.

“You try to put resources where they will be most effective in fighting the virus and stopping transmission,” Kuhles said.

The recent surge, he said, is probably tied to family Thanksgiving gatherings. Many show the hallmarks of family get-togethers: Those getting sick span generations and other categories. More than a week after the holiday, Kuhle hopes new cases have peaked.

“It usually takes five or six days, so we might be on the downslope,” Kuhles said. “I think there are important lessons here for everyone about what could happen after Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s.”

Elsewhere, Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy reported that county had 205 new positive cases on Monday — the first time the daily increase has exceeded 200. Three-quarters had no clear source of transmission, while the others had close contact with a positive case.

There were 11 new hospitalizations reported between Monday and Tuesday, and there are 88 Albany County residents hospitalized — a situation McCoy sought to portray as good news.

“While we mark the highest number of new daily cases of COVID-19 to date, we also continue to see our hospitalizations stabilize and regional hospital and ICU bed availability above the state average,” McCoy said.

Stabilizing regional hospital admissions is a key to keeping restaurants open at half-capacity under new guidelines Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Monday. A continued rise in hospitalizations could lead to restaurant indoor capacity being reduced to 25 percent in this region.

On Tuesday, Cuomo’s office reported the following new case totals for Monday in local counties: Saratoga, 101; Schenectady, 98; Rensselaer, 65; Fulton, 42; Montgomery, 25, and Schoharie, 10. While 74 people died statewide, none were in the Capital Region.

“As we continue to see the number of COVID cases rise in New York and across the nation, it’s critical that we not only remain tough and practice safe behaviors to limit viral spread, but that we also do everything in our power to ensure hospitals are prepared to handle a growing number of patients,” Cuomo said.

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Schenectady County officials on Tuesday said they continue to see community spread linked to social contact and gatherings which could be prevented by following the basic precautions of wearing a mask, physically distancing from others and avoiding gatherings.

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