NY hospitals to test for new COVID variant

A man gets a COVID test. David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

HUDSON — More than 30% of all COVID cases in Columbia County have occurred in the past month.

After a steady increase of positive COVID cases in recent weeks, 30.3% of all of the county’s cases since the pandemic began have occurred in the last 30 days.

“It’s clearer that we’re in the grips of the second wave that was hypothesized over the summer months,” Columbia County Health Department Director Jack Mabb said. “I know that looking at the Forward New York website, our positivity rate is 2.9%, second [in the Capital Region] only to Albany. The yellow level is a 3.5% positivity rate and we’re rising towards that level. It’s getting a little scary. We’re not there yet, obviously, but we’re rising. The most concerning thing is that it is all community spread.”

As of Oct. 19, Columbia County had 623 positive COVID cases and by Nov. 19, that figure had risen to 894, according to the Department of Health. About 30.3% of all cases have been confirmed in the last month.

Unlike the high COVID numbers reported earlier in the pandemic when the majority of positive cases were found in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, the current spike in cases is almost entirely spread throughout the general public, Mabb said.

In the past two weeks, Columbia County had not had any new positives linked to nursing homes or assisted-care facilities, Mabb said. During that time, the county has had 133 new positive cases, according to the Health Department.

Columbia County also had an increase in the number of people in mandatory quarantine. There were 361 people in mandatory quarantine as of Thursday evening. A month ago, on Oct. 19, 61 people were required to quarantine.

Area hospitals in the Capital Region have recently revised their visitation rules to reflect policies that were in place earlier in the pandemic. Columbia Memorial Health, Albany Medical Center, St. Peter’s Hospital and MidHudson Regional Hospital have all suspended or partially suspended patient visitation. There are some exceptions for patients near the end of life, patients in labor, patients who are minors or who need a medical caregiver present.

“Hospitals are continuing to work together to make sure we’re all in discussion and planning together on a regional basis,” Sue Ford, director of communications at Albany Medical Center, said Thursday.

The highest number of COVID patients at Albany Medical Center at one time was 86, which was in April, Ford said. As of Wednesday, the hospital had 39 COVID patients.

There are 19 people in the county hospitalized because of COVID-19. Three are in the intensive care unit.

The New York Forward website tracks the percentage of positive cases in each county in the state. A county can be classified as a yellow, orange or red zone based on the percentage of positive tests over a period of 10 days. Columbia County has not reached the threshold in positivity rates to be considered a yellow zone.

The county would have to reach a 10-day rolling average positivity rate of about 3.5% to be considered a yellow zone for COVID, Mabb said. If that were to happen, school districts would have to switch to remote learning or test 20% of their population — including students and staff — in order to remain open for in-person instruction.

“At the yellow zone, not that much gets shut down. Schools either have to test 20% of their population weekly or go virtual,” Mabb said. “It’s really schools that it would have the most effect on.”

For the county to be considered an orange zone, it would have to have an average positivity rate of 4.5% over the 10-day period, and if the county hit an average of 5.5%, if would be classified as a red zone. Each higher classification tightens the restrictions.

Mabb said he is anticipating another spike in COVID numbers after Thanksgiving.

“That’s what will probably push us into that yellow zone is Thanksgiving,” Mabb said. “I think people are really tired of the restrictions and they are tired of mask wearing. They really want to get back to their lives and I think many people will do a traditional Thanksgiving, the one that they’ve always done. Think it through and try to be as safe as you can.”

The Columbia County Department of Health recently used antigen tests provided by the state. Out of the 60 kits used, two people tested positive.

The Department of Health will be holding a COVID testing clinic Dec. 1, at the former John L. Edwards Primary School in Hudson from 9-11 a.m. The clinic is limited to 100 tests. Preregistration is not required, but a mask and photo ID are needed in order to get tested.

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