ALBANY — New York localities are revamping COVID-19 testing and influenza vaccine strategies as the state’s rate of new COVID-19 infections remained below 1% positive for two consecutive weeks Friday — or one incubation period of the novel coronavirus.
The state performed a record-high number Thursday of 98,880 diagnostic COVID-19 tests with 709 infected New Yorkers, or 0.72 percent positive. Friday marked the 14th consecutive day the state’s number of new cases remained below 1%.
“Part of the reason we were able to tame the beast in New York is because of our aggressive testing strategy,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement Friday. “When the federal administration fell down, New York stepped up - and yesterday we raised the bar even higher with nearly 100,000 tests reported in a single day.
Three New Yorkers died from COVID-19 Thursday, down from five Wednesday. No virus-related deaths were reported in New York City on Thursday.
The state had 119 virus patients in intensive care, and 490 virus patients in New York hospitals Friday — the lowest numbers since March 15 and 16, respectively.
“We’ve been reopening for 14 weeks and our infection rate has actually done down,” Cuomo said. “This is proof-positive that when you have the virus under control, more testing does not equal more positives. But my message to New Yorkers remains the same: This is not over, we have to be smart, wear a mask, socially distance and be New York Tough!”
New COVID-19 infections in Columbia and Greene counties are on par with the state’s declining figures, officials said. Twin County coronavirus infections have seen slight or incremental increases since the state started reopening nonessential businesses May 15.
“Our experience matches what the county has indicated — we’re seeing a continual decline of COVID,” CMH spokesman William Van Slyke said Friday. “Our concern has shifted to also include the number of people who have postponed necessary medical care. Many patients are coming back for care safely, but some continue to delay care, so we want to encourage everyone who needs care or who has postponed care to see their doctor.”
Columbia County had 561 reported positive COVID-19 cases with one new positive Friday of the 296 residents tested Thursday.
“In terms of Columbia County, they’re trickling in,” county Public Health Director Jack Mabb said Friday. “We’ll get one or two and then get a day without one. We might get three.”
A small Columbia County virus spike Aug. 3 and 4 was attributed to two golf outings in late July, but the spread was quickly contained.
“We had a little bump up, but outside that, it’s been quiet for weeks,” Mabb added.
The county’s coronavirus numbers, barring a slew of infections and deaths in area nursing homes this spring, were largely low from the start of the pandemic, Mabb said, as most Columbia County residents have taken social distancing and wearing a mask seriously.
“What I lose sleep over is school starting up again,” Mabb said. “With the fall coming, the weather tends to concentrate inside. We’re sort of holding our breath, anticipating a spike.”
Officials have prepared for the worst, especially as the 2020-21 influenza season threatens to begin, with purchasing a stockpile of nasal swabs, COVID-19 testing kits and additional personal protective equipment, or PPE.
Gov. Cuomo and medical experts have expressed concern over a second wave of the coronavirus sweeping the state, especially as the fall approaches and New Yorkers become infected with this year’s strain of influenza. The seasonal flu begins in October or November and continues through April or May, depending on the year, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Flu tests are typically administered in a doctor’s office, but the county will offer a series of six drive-through clinics this fall for residents to receive this year’s flu shot.
“I think the flu clinics we have coming up, and with people taking advantage of it ... we’re practicing a technique to administer a large-scale kind of event,” Mabb said. “The governor wants us to practice that to do the [COVID-19 vaccine] shots.
“I have 100 percent confidence in this team that we will be able to be right on top of it. Once the vaccine is available ... the idea is to do it as quickly as possible. That’s how you get it done.”
The county’s walk-up COVID-19 testing clinic scheduled for Aug. 24 at the former John L. Edwards elementary school in Hudson was canceled, because the state’s Wadsworth Center Lab in Albany is not processing tests that date.
“We don’t know this with any certainty, but we think they’re revamping for the flu season,” Mabb said. “They’re likely revaming counterparts in other counties and they’re going to have to scale back on their testing.”
The county has agreements with a number of commercial labs downstate as a back-up.
“Columbia and Greene counties have seemed to be these little backwater counties that Albany doesn’t pay much attention to when it comes to getting test kits,” Mabb said. “We have a decent stockpile. We are buying kits and taking [the upcoming flu season] into consideration.”
The county regularly offers walk-up COVID-19 testing clinics. A drive-through COVID-19 testing clinic will be held in Germantown on Sept. 13.
For more information, visit columbiacountynyhealth.com.
The county will offer COVID-19 antibody tests to determine if a person was previously infected with the virus in September. Officials purchased 1,000 antibody test kits to administer to local EMS squads and sheriff’s department employees first. The state handles the COVID-19 testing of New York State Police troopers.
“On the low numbers: Keep up the good work,” Mabb said. “Everyone’s pulling their weight. It’s nice to see a lot of masks out there and thinking about social distancing. Let’s ride this thing out until that vaccine’s available.”
In Greene County, 304 residents have tested positive to date, with three new positives Friday of 293 tests.
“The county region as a whole has held very consistent,” said Greene County Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore. Linger is one of dozens of officials who are part of the Capital Region’s Control Room, which monitors the region for clusters of coronavirus infections, reducing potential outbreaks.
“Hospitalization numbers and ICU numbers have all been very low and well within ranges we want to see,” Linger said. “It’s kind of difficult to drop when you’re at those high numbers to begin with. We’re happy where we’re holding that.”
Linger attributed the county’s success to communicating the importance of wearing face masks and social distancing to residents, widely distributed on Greene County’s website, through email databases and social media.
“We across the county have had a consistent message to wear face masks, remain socially distanced and not complaining to our business owners over things they have no control over,” Linger said, referring to the state’s COVID-19 mandates.”
About 4,000 diagnostic coronavirus tests were conducted in the Capital Region on Thursday — a record, Linger said. An average of 275 Greene County residents are tested daily with an average of 0.2 and 0.4 percent positive.
“We’re finding the positives, we’re quarantining them, and that all helps drive down these numbers,” Linger said. “We appreciate everybody taking this seriously and not being too hard on our businesses. They really need the help. They’re the ones that have absolutely no control with it. Be patient with them.”