With nine COVID-19 deaths reported in the last week and an 11.8% positivity rate, Greene County has the highest infection rate in the Capital Region and Columbia County has one of the lowest.
The Capital Region, composed of Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren and Washington counties, has the third-highest positivity rate in the state at 9.9%, following the Mohawk Valley and Finger Lakes regions. Greene County’s positivity rate, on a seven-day average, is 11.8% and Columbia County is at 6.9%, according to the state Department of Health.
New York City, by comparison, has a seven-day average of 6.2%, with the highest borough, the Bronx, reporting 7.7%. The Bronx has about 1.4 million residents, according to the latest census estimates, compared to Greene County’s 47,000 and Columbia County’s 67,000 residents.
Greene County is seeing the result of “living room spread,” which is responsible for more than 70% of COVID-19 cases, Greene County Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, said.
“Even if you take out the adult-care facilities, the prisons, we’re seeing much, much higher active case numbers than even this spring,” Linger said. “I think a majority of that is related to small gatherings, people getting together over the holidays. For some people, it seems silly to them to wear a mask in their own home, but when someone comes to your house to visit and you test positive or they test positive, everybody winds up on quarantine.”
In addition to the increase in cases, the number of people on quarantine is increasing, Linger said. Contact traces are up from about five to six people per positive in the spring to about 18 to 25. A total of 541 residents were on quarantine and 33 residents have died from the virus.
“People have got to pay attention to these guidelines and be responsible,” Linger said. “We’ve had nine deaths since the first of the year. That’s a big number for us. Those are people, they’re residents.”
Greene County reported five new deaths over the weekend, which stemmed from Coxsackie Correctional Facility, local nursing homes and the general population, Linger said.
Of the county’s 349 active cases Monday, 40 were from Coxsackie Correctional and 83 were from adult-care facilities, primarily from Greene Meadows Nursing and Rehabilitation, with some at The Pines at Catskill Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, Linger said. He did not have specifics on the number of cases at each facility.
The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision reported that two inmates at Coxsackie Correctional died from the virus as of Dec. 31.
The severity of COVID-19 increases with age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the Twin Counties, more than 40% of the population will be 55 and older by 2030, and by 2030 almost 25% of Columbia County will be 70 or above, according to Pattern for Progress’ “Out of Alignment” study released in 2019.
Cases across the Capital Region are higher now than they were in the spring, Linger said.
The Capital Region had an average of 36.6 positives per day during Phase 1 of the region’s reopening, 18.5 cases during Phase 2 and 3, and 33.1 in Phase 4, Linger said.
Daily case loads began increasing in October.
“We’ve literally been doubling our average daily positives every two weeks,” Linger said.
The Capital Region’s average daily cases for the last two weeks in December totaled 631, Linger said.
Increased testing is not to blame for the increase in cases, Linger said.
“Back in May and June we were testing 3,000-4,000 a day in the region,” he said. “Now we are testing 8,000-9,000 per day. We’re testing twice as many but we’re seeing 18 times as many cases. I don’t believe it’s correlated to the increased testing. I think it’s correlated to the increased spread.”
Greene County Public Health tests as many as 120 people per week, but averages near 70, Linger said. Turnaround time for the tests vary, with results from Wadsworth averaging 3-5 days and from Quest Diagnostics averaging 7-10 days, Linger said. Testing at the Wadsworth Center, the state laboratory, is capped at 50 tests per week for Greene County.
The region is not predicted to become designated as a microcluster in the next three weeks, Linger said.
Columbia County has one of the lowest positivity rates among Capital Region counties. Its seven-day average positivity rate of 6.9% is the lowest in the Capital Region and its 14-day average positivity rating of 5.8% is second lowest in the Capital Region. Only Washington County’s 14-day average positivity rating is lower at 5.6%.
Columbia County Department of Health Director Jack Mabb said the positivity rating is largely based on the number of individuals who are tested for the virus.
“Some people would say the more you test the more positives you have,” said Mabb. “Some people might be critical of us because we don’t test as much as, say, Albany, but I really do think, and I’ve said this all along, that Columbia County residents in my comings and goings, and my trips to Walmart, I think people are complying.”
The Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said the best way to reduce the spread of the virus is for everyone to wear masks and keep a safe social distance from each other, Mabb said.
“I think our residents are following the guidance, they’re wearing their masks and socially distancing as much as possible,” Mabb said. “ And when we look at the positives that we do get, they do tend to be a lot younger crowed than we used to get back in the spring when things were crazy.”
The Columbia County Department of Health announced Monday the county had its 51st COVID-related death since the beginning of the pandemic. Mabb said it was an older community member, but said he could not disclose more information about the individual because of privacy concerns.
Health officials announced the county’s 50th COVID-related death Sunday, which Mabb said was an older man who had been residing at a group home in the county. From the beginning of the pandemic until June 6, the Columbia County Department of Health reported 37 COVID-related deaths in the county. During the summer months the county saw a period of time when there were lower numbers of positive COVID cases and no additional COVID-related deaths. The county Department of Health reported its 38th COVID-related death Oct. 14. The death toll stands at 51 as of Jan. 5.
As of Jan. 4, there have been 1,774 positive COVID-19 cases in the county since the beginning of the pandemic. There are 271 active cases in the county, 30 people hospitalized because of the virus and 333 county residents in mandatory quarantine because of COVID.
COVID rates have been increasing rapidly in recent weeks, Mabb said.
From Dec. 4 to Jan. 4, the Columbia County Department of Health has reported 740 new COVID cases, with 41.7% of all of the county’s positive COVID cases occurring in the past week.