COVID test statistics shift after Christmas — positive rate jumps as fewer New Yorkers tested

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo provides a coronavirus update from the Red Room at the State Capitol. (Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)
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Governor Andrew M. Cuomo provides a coronavirus update from the Red Room at the State Capitol. (Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

Categories: -The Daily Gazette, News

ALBANY — New Yorkers are testing positive for COVID-19 at a significantly higher rate in the last couple of days.

The uptick seems too soon after Christmas to be the feared post-holiday surge, but may be Christmas-related nonetheless, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday.

The number of tests administered Thursday and Friday totaled about 428,000 statewide but the combined total administered Saturday and Sunday dropped to about 255,000, as some people apparently spent the weekend relaxing instead of waiting in line for a COVID test.

“So the sample is artificially skewed,” Cuomo said.

“The number of positive cases didn’t go up, it’s that the number of people getting tested went down by half.”

State health officials are studying the numbers and circumstances but don’t yet have a clear picture of whether there are other factors that boosted the percentages, he added.

“We’ll see what the numbers say over the next few days.”

The positive test rate on a seven-day average for the week ending Friday and on the single day of Sunday was:

  • New York state 5.3% 8.3%
  • Capital Region 7.8% 12.7%
  • Mohawk Valley 8.7% 12.9%
  • Albany County 7.9% 15.1%
  • Fulton County 8.7% 8.4%
  • Montgomery County 10.2% 15.8%
  • Rensselaer County 7.5% 12.1%
  • Saratoga County 7.8% 14.8%
  • Schenectady County 10.0% 16.4%
  • Schoharie County 11.4% 13.2%

The number of New Yorkers hospitalized with COVID also took a significant jump Sunday, from 7,183 to 7,559.

Cuomo noted that the hospital census on Sundays is skewed by the fact that fewer patients are discharged on a Sunday, but this Sunday’s jump was larger than any in the past two months.

SCHENECTADY COUNTY

Schenectady County had one of the highest positive test rates in the state before this latest Christmas weekend spike, and it still does after.

On Sunday, its one-day positive test percentage was 16.4%, third-highest among the state’s 62 counties after Chautauqua (24.6%) and Cattaraugus (18.5%) counties.

A seven-day average is a better metric of the pandemic than a one-day total, as it gives less weight to one-time events. Schenectady County’s seven-day average as of Sunday was 10.5%, while Chautauqua and Cattagaraugus were 8.3% and 9.7% respectively. Schenectady County was seventh-highest in the state.

Schenectady County public health officials said Monday that the rising test rate in the county is believed to have two root causes: More county residents are infected and fewer of the “worried well” — those who are COVID-negative and want to be sure of it — got tested over the weekend than normally do.

More COVID tests have been administered in Schenectady County (187,074) than there are residents, and 5,454 have tested positive from early March through Sunday night.

Ninety-four positive tests were reported Sunday in Schenectady County but only 573 tests were administered — the fewest by far of any day so far in December.

Ellis Hospital reached a peak 85 COVID patients in five separate units last week, compared with a peak of 39 in April, and it transferred a few patients — COVID and non-COVID — to other facilities as part of a regional load-balancing effort among Capital Region hospitals.

These transfers will occur to and from the various hospitals based on patient census, staff availability, bed restrictions and medical supplies on hand. On average for the last seven days, 26% of all hospital beds and 19% of ICU beds were available in Capital Region hospitals.

“Load balancing will become increasingly important in the coming weeks as we anticipate another rise in patients following the holidays,” Ellis Medicine spokesman Philip Schwartz said Monday.

Elective medical procedures at Ellis Hospital (and all other Capital Region hospitals) will be curtailed as Ellis converts back to crisis mode, he added, but those who need medical care more urgently should not hesitate to come in — full safety protocols are in place to prevent transmission of the virus.

Schwartz said the ability to care for 85 COVID patients at once indicates the preparations and progress made since the first wave of the pandemic in the spring, when Ellis maxed out at less than half that number.

Schenectady County’s only hospital had 69 COVID-positive inpatients Monday morning.

GET TOGETHERS

Public health officials’ mantra in the last few weeks as the holidays approached has been to avoid social gatherings, which are an excellent way to spread the COVID virus.

Two such instances that illustrate why this is so were reported Monday in the Capital Region, one ironic and one potentially criminal in nature.

Columbia County officials said that 15 members of a local church gathered to record a religious service for viewing by congregants who are avoiding gatherings. It turns out that one of the 15 was infected at the time, and now five are.

Warren County officials said its health workers have documented at least 10 new cases of COVID in recent days that appear to stem from a Dec. 18 underage drinking party and sleepover in another county that drew 50 or more revelers, one of whom was infected.

Contact tracing has been difficult, as those infected gave conflicting reports of who else was at the party.

Warren County did not identify the location, but Saratoga County confirmed indirectly that it was in Wilton.

Saratoga County officials have given no public indication they are looking into any such party — which would be in direct violation of the state’s 10-person limit on such gatherings as well as alcohol consumption laws — or looking at its potential impact on public health.

Asked specifically about a Dec. 18 party in Wilton, a spokesman provided a general quote from county Health Commissioner Dr. Daniel Kuhles on the importance of personal hygiene and distancing and said further comment was impossible because law enforcement is involved in the investigation.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

In other COVID-related news Monday:

  • COVID’s death toll continues to rise statewide, with 114 new deaths reported Monday for a total of 29,629. In the Capital Region, Schenectady County reported four: three men in their 50s, 70s and 80s and a woman in her 80s. Albany County two, a man in his 80s and a woman in her 70s; Rensselaer County, a man in his 70s; Greene County, one death; and Warren County, one resident in their 40s, the fourth COVID death there in six days. Additionally, the state Department of Health — whose reporting is often out of sync with county departments of health — reported one new death each in Montgomery, Schoharie and Washington counties.
  • Albany County reported 118 residents hospitalized, a new one-day high.
  • Montgomery County issued its weekly COVID update: 1171, cumulative positive tests, 18 people hospitalized and 22 deceased. That’s a 25 percent increase in infections and a 22 percent increase in deaths in the course of one week.
  • The New York Power Authority reported that its transmission control center operators in the Mohawk Valley have begun sequestering in place — living on site in isolation for a period of weeks — as a precautionary measure to ensure continued reliability of NYPA’s power generation and transmission operations. The Mohawk Valley region has the highest positive test rate among the state’s 10 regions and a number of essential NYPA employees have gone into quarantine because of COVID-19 exposure.
  • Columbia County, which has issued nearly daily reports on the pandemic within its borders, said it will need to scale back the level of detail it reports because the volume of cases it is seeing is taxing its resources.

 

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