CAPITAL REGION — There were indications of improvement in some of the statewide COVID-19 numbers released by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office on Thursday, though the Capital Region continues to see hundreds of new cases per day.
Collectively, Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga, Rensselaer, Fulton. Montgomery and Schoharie counties reported 760 new cases, down about 100 cases from last weekend, which appears to have been a post-holiday peak.
The state recorded Schenectady County as having six deaths, but that includes the four deaths that were reported by the county on Wednesday. On Thursday, the county reported one new death, of a woman in her 50s. Discrepancies in county and state reporting systems are common because of lags in when data is reported.
Among the 174 deaths reported in the state, there were also two each in Albany and Montgomery counties, and one each in Fulton and Saratoga counties.
Schenectady has now experienced 134 COVID-related deaths since the start of the pandemic, the second-highest in the region, according to the state Department of Health. Albany County has seen 263 deaths. As of Thursday, Rensselaer County had recorded 108 deaths; Saratoga had 84 deaths; Montgomery, 77; Fulton, 54; and Schoharie County, five. Only Schoharie County hasn’t had multiple deaths in nursing homes.
All the counties have seen significant increases in the number of deaths this fall and winter, in keeping with statewide and national mortality trends.
There was a glimmer of good news in the statewide numbers released Thursday: The number of people hospitalized was down by 218, though it is still above 9,000 — roughly the level of early last May, when COVID-19 cases were concentrated in New York City and its closest suburbs. The number of people in intensive care units and with intubation also dropped, a possible sign that the surge caused by holiday celebrations is abating.
Also, the statewide average test positivity rate is down, to 6.18 percent. “If you look at the regions, you see all basically follow the general curve where it went up, flattened a little bit and then is coming down as the holidays are more and more in the past,” Cuomo said on Wednesday.
Separately, Cuomo announced that the state has administered 93 percent of the first doses of vaccine — 975,000 doses, out of 1,053,000 first doses received from the federal government. Administration of required second doses is now underway. The statistics count doses being administered through hospitals, state and local government distribution sites, and pharmacies.
The Capital Region has a lower rate of first shots given — 64,305 to date, or 82 percent. The Mohawk Valley is at 77 percent, while the North Country and Southern Tier are each at or near 100 percent administration of initial doses.
“We are racing to administer the vaccine as quickly as possible while doing everything we can to reduce the infection rate. We’ve made progress on both fronts since the post-holiday surge but there’s a long way to go before we reach the light at the end of the tunnel,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo again noted that the supply of vaccine is far short of what is needed to vaccinate everyone who is now eligible — frontline workers in a variety of essential industries and those over age 65, some 7 million people in all. “New Yorkers who aren’t eligible should stay vigilant as we get through this winter, washing their hands, wearing masks and social distancing,” Cuomo said.
Albany County on Thursday reported that it saw total daily diagnoses spike upward again, to 279, after three straight days below 200 new cases per day.
“COVID isn’t done with us yet,” said Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy. “We can’t get lazy now, and we need to stay vigilant. Please continue to wear a mask, socially distance, stay home as much as possible and avoid private gatherings that are driving infections.”
Cuomo also took two actions Thursday spurred by non-medical aspects of the pandemic:
— The governor announced that the open enrollment period for uninsured New Yorkers would be extended through March 31. That means residents without health insurance coverage can apply through through NY State of Health, the state’s official health plan marketplace, or through insurers.
“By extending this deadline until March, New Yorkers who need health coverage will have additional time to enroll and find the plan that works best for themselves and their families,” Cuomo said.
Individuals who are eligible for other NY State of Health programs — Medicaid, Essential Plan and Child Health Plus — can enroll year-round.
— The governor also announced that the Department of Financial Services’ office of pharmacy benefits is looking into significant price hikes for drugs connected to the pandemic. It has sent letters to the manufacturers demanding explanations for cases in which specific drugs sometimes nearly doubled in price.
The drugs involved are Ascor, a formulation of Vitamin C for IV injection that has had clinical trials for use on acutely ill COVID patients; Budesonide and Dexonto, corticosteroids under investigation as COVID-19 treatments; Mytesi, a drug used to treat gastrointestinal side effects of antiretroviral therapies; Duramorph, a morphine formulation, and chloroquine phosphate, the malaria drug that was touted by President Donald Trump, though clinical trials showed it was ineffective.