FONDA — Montgomery County has seen a shift in the local COVID-19 profile, as the people testing positive are younger and less likely to show symptoms of the virus.
County health officials are investigating the potential contacts with an infected person at the Amsterdam High School graduation ceremony two weeks ago, and they’re also trying to find out how that person got infected.
“The problem with this ceremony is the identity of the source of the infection — we haven’t found that at this point,” county Director of Public Health Sara Boerenko said Friday.
There are not believed to be a large number of infected people in the community, she said, but many of those who are infected don’t know it because they look and feel fine.
“It’s really at this point making it hard for us to pinpoint,” she said.
In the state hit hardest and earliest by the pandemic, Montgomery was among the less-affected counties: 111 infections and one death as of Monday, by the county’s official tally.
New York state has made great progress from the early-spring surge, to the point that it accounted for only 4,737 of the nation’s 367,105 new confirmed cases nationwide in the last week. The situation has stabilized to the point that the economy has been reopened in most of the state and state health officials on Friday announced that nursing homes where there have been no COVID-19 infections in the last month could reopen to limited visitation.
Amid all the progress, clusters of COVID infections crop up randomly, such as last month at the Keymark factory in Fonda.
Tracking down the connections in that cluster and halting the spread was a major undertaking across the several counties where KeyMark employees live and socialize, Boerenko said. The state coordinated the effort by Montgomery and the other counties.
“The incident with the school, it’s a little more concise — it’s one place, it’s one county, it’s one group,” she said.
The June 27th graduation ceremony at Amsterdam High followed the model of the times, with graduates getting diplomas in small groups while everyone wore masks and kept their distance.
That’s how it went inside.
Outside, not everyone wore a mask and not everyone kept their distance.
“The school did everything by the books in following the directives of the New York state Department of Health,” Boerenko said.
The county and the school district issued an advisory Thursday that anyone who attended the ceremony should get tested if they are in a high-risk demographic or experience COVID symptoms.
Boerenko said upstate New Yorkers who endure seven or eight months of cold for the pleasures of summer might hope or assume the virus is gone in the warm months, and behave accordingly.
It doesn't go away, she said. If it did, Florida wouldn’t have recorded 63,064 new COVID infections in the most recent seven days of what so far is its hottest year on record.
The shift of infections to a younger group of patients in Montgomery County might be due to younger people typically feeling invulnerable and older people learning in the last four months that they are vulnerable, Boerenko said. (A state database indicates 85 percent of those killed by the disease in New York have been older than 59 years.)
With Montgomery County seeing one or even zero new infections per day for two weeks, the sudden uptick to three and four per day late this week is a 300 percent to 400 percent increase, but still a very tiny number.
“One [infection] concerns me because I know one can lead to 37 as it did down in Westchester,” Boerenko said, though adding: “I don’t think we at the county level are on track for an explosive outbreak.”
The way to avoid such a crisis is by residents taking precautions to avoid infection, she said, and she's heartened by all the calls her office gets from residents asking for masks and hand sanitizer, which shows they are taking it seriously.
When an infection is reported, the county starts tracing connections to those who might have been exposed to a known carrier of the virus, whether there were 77 (Keymark) or just one (Amsterdam High School).
So far, the county hasn’t yet been able to track down the source of infection for that one person at the high school.