The status of the pandemic here in Ulster is a mixed bag. Cases are still high, though vaccinations are rolling out increasingly quickly and several types of business restrictions in place for over a year are being lifted. Here’s a snapshot of things as they stand as of the first week of April — just about 13 months since Ulster got its first case, and 13,455 confirmed cases and 246 deaths later.
Cases remain high
Active cases in Ulster County have fallen from a peak of 2,022 on January 30 to 1,763 on April 4, but that’s still 75 percent more cases than the high point of the first wave last April. The number of cases in Ulster in relation to the population is high enough to be declared “very high risk” by an online New York Time tool, which explains: “Ulster County is at a very high risk level because there was an average of 42 daily cases per 100,000 people reported in the past two weeks. The risk in Ulster County will decrease to high risk if the daily case rate drops to less than about 11.4 cases per 100,000 people and the test positivity stays low.”
December and January were the worst months of the pandemic locally in terms of cases and deaths, with 47 losing their lives in December and 69 in January. Cases had been falling throughout February before increasing again in March. County Executive Pat Ryan and Health Commissioner Carol Smith discussed the increase in March 25 Facebook livestream. Ryan said the county never “really fully came out of the second wave.” Smith attributed this to a number of factors, including “folks letting their guard down” after reaching the one-year mark.
“We understand the fatigue factor, the need to socialize, and that people are outside more because the weather is better,” said Smith. “However, it’s still the behavior that’s the number one driver of this issue, where we, and the entire Mid-Hudson region, are starting to see that slow increase in numbers of cases.”
Aside from Covid fatigue, Smith mentioned “folks are coming up from the city.
“If we let our guard down, we are going to pay the price for that,” said Smith. “The other thing that has to be taken into consideration is the virus mutates, and it’s been mutating since day one.”
Vaccination eligibility expands
Beginning April 6, all New Yorkers 16 and over are eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine. Universal adult eligibility came just a week after the bar was lowered from 50 to 30 (March 30), a number that itself had only been in effect for a week after being lowered from 60 (March 23). The quick expansion of eligibility after months when only seniors or those with serious health risks could get an appointment is a function of rapidly increasing vaccine production, which is expected to outpace the number of Americans who want to be vaccinated some time in May. Vaccine hesitancy appears to be dropping as more Americans know someone who has received the shot without serious side effects. In December, 53 percent of poll respondents said their attitude toward getting a vaccine was “wait and see,” “only if required,” or “definitely not.” That number fell to 37 percent in March, with only 13 percent saying, “definitely not.”
In Ulster County, which has a population of about 180,000, 68,987 persons have been vaccinated with the first dose and 40,277 people have completed the series, as of April 5.
Where to get vaccinated
The two main places in Ulster County are the county site at the former Best Buy in the Hudson Valley Mall in the town of Ulster and the state-run site at the county fairgrounds on Libertyville Road in New Paltz. Both are accepting all residents 16 and up regardless of pre-existing conditions.
The county recently changed its appointment process. While those who sign up on its online form are still receiving notifications when appointments become availalbe, it’s no longer necessary to do so. Users can visit the following site and make appointments directly: https://covid19.ulstercountyny.gov/vaccine-resource-center/
For the state site, you also need to visit a website: https://am-i-eligible.covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/.
Local pharmacies are another source of vaccinations, especially for senior citizens. The process varies for each but generally involves signing up on their website, either when prompted via email or when you visit a pharmacy site that happens to have availability at the time. Pharmacies in Ulster that are providing vaccinations include: Tops Pharmacy, Village Apothecary, Dedricks Pharmacy, Nekos Pharmacy, Catskill Pharmacy, Walgreens, Rite Aid, CVS, Hannaford Pharmacies, Walmart and Shoprite.
Seniors who need assistance making online appointments can call the Ulster County Office for the Aging for help at (845) 340-3456.
As of the end of March, the social gathering limit in New York State was set to 100 or fewer people in indoor non-residential settings and 200 or fewer in outdoor non-residential settings.
Aside from weddings and private events, the state began allowing plays, concerts and other performances to begin again starting on April 2. These venues can reopen at 33 percent capacity with indoor audiences of up to 100.
Also starting April 2, collegiate sports were allowed to bring fans back to the stands. Additionally, indoor fitness classes were allowed to reopen.
As of April 5, the 11 p.m. curfew was lifted for casinos, movie theaters, bowling alleys, billiard halls, gyms and fitness centers.
-Additional reporting by Will Dendis