CAPITAL REGION -- This winter's flu season isn't over, though the number of cases and number of people hospitalized has been declining now for a month or more.
For the week ending March 17, New York state had 3,005 laboratory-confirmed cases, the fourth straight week of decline; hospitalizations dropped to 493, for the sixth straight week of lower numbers.
However, this year's virus-borne illnesses continue to be "widespread," with no part of the state untouched last week. There have been more than 72,000 cases confirmed since the beginning of the flu season in upstate alone, and another 42,000 cases have been reported in New York City.
"While I am again encouraged to see a decline in the number of flu cases across the state, it is as important as ever to continue to take all appropriate steps to prevent the spread of the virus," said state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker.
The federal Centers for Disease Control reported that nationwide the number of cases is decreasing, though overall flu activity remains high.
There has been 128 pediatric flu deaths this season across the nation, including five in New York state. Statewide, nearly 19,000 children under age 5 were diagnosed, a roughly 50-percent increase from a year ago.
"This flu season has been particularly severe in New York and across the nation, and it is not over yet," said state Health Department spokeswoman Jill Montag. "While it is encouraging to see a continued decline in the number of flu cases across the state, New Yorkers must stay vigilant."
As the season worsened in January and February, Gov. Andrew Cuomo changed state rules to allow pharmacists to administer flu vaccine to children, increasing public access to the vaccine. He also authorized additional reimbursements for local health departments that increased their number of vaccine clinics and public awareness campaigns.
It's been a long and difficult flu season in the Capital Region, where some counties reported well over 1,000 lab-confirmed cases. The number of actual cases was certainly much higher since the state only counts those confirmed by lab testing.
Saratoga County has had the most confirmed cases in the region, with 1,881 cases for the season as of last week. But weekly case totals are dropping, from 114 the week of March 3 to 67 in the week ending March 17.
"We've decreased to the point where it's a better outlook than it was in 2015-2016," said County Public Director Director Cathi Duncan, referencing a recent season in which cases continued into May. "There's just no way of telling [how long it will last], you just have to wait it out."
Montgomery County, with a far smaller population than Saratoga County, has seen 416 cases through March 17.
"Flu season was difficult this year for Montgomery County," said Sara Boerenko, the director of public health. "School attendance was low, doctor's offices, [emergency room] and urgent care usage was high."
She said the elderly and young children were the hardest hit, which is also true in most areas every year. Boerenko also suggested people plan on preparing earlier next year.
"We want to remind people to prepare for next year by getting the flu shot as soon as possible," she said. "October is when people should make appointments to get vaccinated."
State and local health officials all said people should continue practicing good hygiene such as hand-washing, covering their mouth or nose when coughing or sneezing, and staying home and drinking fluids when they have flu symptoms.
COUNTY BY COUNTY
Week/March 3 Week/March 17 Season to date
ALBANY 102 46 1,490
FULTON 23 16 302
MONTGOMERY 26 21 416
RENSSELAER 51 11 724
SARATOGA 114 67 1,881
SCHENECTADY 122 43 1,751
SCHOHARIE 14 3 147