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At the five-month mark, COVID at a lull across NY but clusters persist

At the five-month mark, COVID at a lull across NY but clusters persist

Albany, Schenectady counties repeatedly seeing higher infection rates than rest of state
At the five-month mark, COVID at a lull across NY but clusters persist
Motorists line up at a mobile COVID-19 testing stie in Schenectady on April 28.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

ALBANY — Five months after the state's first COVID-19 case was confirmed on March 1, more than 400,000 New Yorkers have been infected, over 25,000 are dead and more than 1.4 million are unemployed amid the continuing economic fallout.

There is also great progress from the pandemic's peak in mid-April, with much of the economy reopened, few people getting sick or being hospitalized, and a death toll in the single digits on many days.

Amid the continuing threat of the virus spreading to New York from other states with high infection rates, and the likelihood of New Yorkers themselves spreading COVID by not wearing masks and not keeping their distance from each other, state officials continue to ponder quickly approaching challenges such as the start of the school year and the 2020-2021 flu season.

BY THE NUMBERS

Here are some snapshots showing where the state and the Capital Region stand at the five-month mark:

LOCAL STATISTICS: On Thursday, the state's tally of confirmed infections and deaths was: Albany County 2,503/114; Fulton County 275/28; Montgomery County 154/4; Rensselaer County 724/35; Saratoga County 715/15; Schenectady County 1,023/39; Schoharie County 68/2. Death tolls compiled by counties sometimes vary from the state's tally.

STATEWIDE TOLL: State officials place New York's COVID-related death toll at 25,150 as of Thursday but acknowledge the count is incomplete. The federal Centers for Disease Control places the total at 27,728 confirmed plus 4,627 probable. Johns Hopkins University places it at 28,042. As of Thursday, 5.89 million diagnostic tests had been administered on New York's 19.4 million residents and 415,014 positive test results recorded.

STATEWIDE PICTURE: New York has been holding steady at a seven-day average positive test rate at or slightly above 1.0 percent recently. On Thursday, 68,869 New Yorkers were tested and 644 positive tests were reported. Statewide, 576 people were hospitalized Thursday, down from a single-day peak of 18,825 on April 11; five people died of COVID, down from a single-day peak of 799 on April 8.

NATIONWIDE PICTURE: This week, the national death toll surpassed 150,000 and the number of confirmed infections surpassed 4.5 million as the pandemic surged in numerous states. New York was hit first and hardest by COVID but has recovered and is now far eclipsed by states including California, Florida and Texas. California had 71,331 new infections and New York 4,649 in the most recent seven-day period recorded by the CDC.

YOUTHFUL WAYS: Young adults are making up an increasing percentage of those testing positive for COVID, both in local counties and statewide. Their chances of dying from the infection have been virtually nil, possibly leading to a false sense of immunity. In the three Capital Region counties that maintain a public statistical dashboard, the 20-to-29 age group accounts for the largest number of infections of any 10-year age group in Albany and Schenectady counties and the second-highest number in Saratoga County.

GENDER GAP: Statewide, 50.5 percent of those who test positive for COVID are men, and men account for 57.4 percent of those who die with the virus. In the three counties with dashboards, the dead are 40 percent male in Albany County, 76 percent male in Saratoga County 53.5 percent male in Schenectady County.

RACIAL GAP: The virus has had a disproportionately high impact on minorities compared to their percentage of the population. Statewide, excluding New York City, Blacks account for 17 percent of deaths but 9 percent of population, while Hispanics account for 14 percent of deaths and 12 percent of population. In Albany County, Blacks are 11.4 percent of the population and 11.9 percent of deaths while Hispanics are 6.1 percent of the population and less than 4 percent of deaths. However, blacks accounted for 23 percent of the positive tests and Hispanics 8 percent in Albany County.

ABOVE AVERAGE

Three of the four large Capital Region counties repeatedly saw higher percentages of positive tests in July than the rest of the state — more even than densely populated New York City, where over 220,000 positive tests have been recorded and over 16,000 people have died by the state tally.

For a 10-day period in late July, Albany County outstripped New York City each day for positive test results, both as a percentage of its population and as a percentage of total tests administered. Schenectady County and Rensselaer County were in a similar position, consistently exceeding the state average for positive tests on a seven-day rolling average.

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(Saratoga County's seven-day averages have been comparable to the statewide numbers, while the smaller counties of the Capital Region and eastern Mohawk Valley have been significantly below the statewide average.)

Officials in Schenectady County — where a woman in her 80s became the county's 43rd victim of COVID and one of only five statewide who died Thursday — said the numbers are boosted by illness at nursing homes, where many of the victims of COVID had been ill or have died.

"For us it’s clear a lot of our positives are due to the tests that we’re doing for employees in nursing homes," said County Administrator Rory Fluman. 

He noted one big improvement in the last three months: People are still getting infected — the county recorded its thousandth positive test Tuesday — but most are not needing to be hospitalized. As he spoke Thursday, the COVID patient census at Ellis Hospital was zero. 

"It does seem to be a higher incidence of not-very-sick people," Fluman said. "Back in March and April, we were scared."

Similarly, Rensselaer County saw two nursing home infection clusters in July that drove up the positive test percentage for the county as a whole. On Wednesday and Thursday alone, 26 infections were confirmed among staff at a Troy nursing home.

Albany County, meanwhile, has the distinction of being the most populous county in the region, home to the largest city, the regional airport and the largest number of shopping and commuting destinations.

It too has struggled with infection clusters, including in nursing homes and at a now-infamous Fourth of July block party in Albany that is directly blamed for or connected to 46 confirmed infections.

Albany County Health Commissioner Dr. Elizabeth Whalen told The Daily Gazette via email:

"We in Albany County have a very robust testing ability and have worked hard to get the message out for people to be tested, whether symptomatic, exposed or concerned. We also, based on our testing, currently have higher rates of positives than most of the state. This is within a short time frame and may be linked to clusters we have seen and identified, and followed up with larger scale testing. In all situations where we have identified a cluster of illness (generally more than two cases) we have worked with the state to implement casting a wider net of testing, and in each case have identified more cases.

"In terms of whether we anticipate this to continue, it is my hope and aim that it will not. We continue to work round the clock with efforts to contain, mitigate, test and exclude. Ultimately, it is up to the public and compliance with public health practice to stem the spread and keep our numbers down."

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