Capital Region

COVID infection numbers inching higher in Capital Region after months of decline

A vaccine sign in Schenectady June 3
PHOTOGRAPHER:
A vaccine sign in Schenectady June 3

ALBANY — The Capital Region has seen a gradual increase in newly confirmed COVID infections so far in July:

The eight-county region recorded 258 positive tests for the week ended July 20, compared with just 91 for the week ended June 20.

The area now has the highest seven-day positive test rate among the state’s 10 regions, but the numbers are still only a fraction of what they once were in the Capital Region.

For the seven days ending April 20, the region had an average 1.8% positive rate with 1,354 new infections confirmed. For the seven days ending July 20, the positive rate was 1.9% with just 258 new infections. 

The number of tests being administered statewide has plummeted as the fight against the virus turned from testing, tracing and masking to vaccinating, vaccinating and vaccinating. 

About 55% of New Yorkers are fully vaccinated, by the state Department of Health tally, one of the top per-capita rates in the nation.

The vaccination campaign has lost its momentum, however: In the seven days ended April 20, some 1,329,310 doses were administered statewide. In the seven days ended July 20, just 234,252 doses were administered. 

Even in Schenectady County, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in the state, there are entire communities and age cohorts with low vaccination rates, and this is a significant problem as the more easily transmitted Delta variant of COVID-19 spreads across the state and nation, said Keith Brown, the county’s acting director of public health.

“There’s a very real risk of having a pandemic within the pandemic,” he said.

The fight against COVID has the advantage of warm weather now, Brown said — people aren’t congregating in close proximity indoors as much. 

That changes in September when children head back to school. Just 7.9% of New Yorkers younger than 16 years old are fully vaccinated.

“We should expect spikes in the fall,” Brown said.

The county is reaching out to pediatricians within its borders to enlist them in the effort to provide vaccine to their patients — first to those age 12 and older, who are now eligible to receive the shot, and later to younger children, if the vaccine is authorized for that age group, as many expect to happen later this year.

Physicians should be urging their patients to be vaccinated, Brown said, and to be administering the vaccine themselves if possible.

“We can’t do this alone as public health.”

At least some are doing so.

St. Peter’s Health Partners said its nearly 700 physicians are encouraging their patients who still aren’t vaccinated to get the shot as soon as possible.

Along with children, Black people remain among the least vaccinated demographic groups in the state.

Asian New Yorkers make up a disproportionately high share of those who’ve been vaccinated; white and Hispanic New Yorkers are a roughly proportionate share of those vaccinated; and Black New Yorkers are a disproportionately low share.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo began railing about this sort of inequity in 2020 before the vaccine was even available, and his administration has not been able to eliminate the gap in the seven months the vaccine has been available, despite extensive outreach.

Efforts to vaccinate the Black community have fallen short in every county except the Bronx, which has by far the largest percentage of Black residents of any county in the state.

Local departments of health continue to try, though. 

Albany County, for example, has partnered with Capital District Latinos and the Black Nurses Coalition in an effort to bring the vaccine into areas with large minority populations. 

These include vaccination clinics at Swinburne Park and Black Lives Matter Park in Albany’s West Hill neighborhood, and at the Alive at Five concert series on the riverfront, which draws an audience from nearby areas.

For the population as a whole, the county is watching the infection data and trends but does not see a cause for immediate alarm.

Saratoga County, like many other counties, has seen its positive test rate swing upward recently. Its seven-day average rate peaked at 11% in early January, bottomed out at 0.3% in late June and had climbed back up to 2.2% by Tuesday.

The county’s public relations director, Christine Rush, said Saratoga County sees vaccination as the best way to stop COVID. 

About two-thirds of all county residents have received at least one dose; a promotional push is underway to urge the remaining one-third to be vaccinated, while a series of community clinics will be held in communities with low vaccination rates to make that easier.

The county has used these tools before but is using them more frequently now.

Saratoga County Public Health Services will have a vaccine clinic at the county fair this week. Also, it will hold popup clinics july 29 in Schuylerville and Aug. 6 in Waterford, two communities that have among the lower vaccination rates in the county.

Seven months after the first doses of a very scarce vaccine were administered in New York, the vaccine is widely available without an appointment and is free. The state is shutting down its mass vaccination sites due to lack of demand. 

It was anticipated that reaching the vaccine holdouts would be difficult, and it is proving to be.

“We’re still hearing a lot of misinformation out there,” Brown said.

STATISTICS

The following state-generated data show the seven-day average positive test rate and the rate of full or partial vaccination for several area counties:

  • Albany 1.7% 65.9%
  • Fulton 0.9% 43.9%
  • Montgomery 1.0% 55.7%
  • Rensselaer 1.7% 59.3%
  • Saratoga 2.2% 65.4%
  • Schenectady 1.7% 68.1%
  • Schoharie 2.5% 49.0%
  • State 1.4% 59.5%

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