County Executive Pat Ryan said the worst scenario continues to play out when it comes to COVID-19 infections in Ulster County with active cases spiking to 781 as of November 24 and going up a faster rate every day.
“Once again we have to take this as a wake-up call,” Ryan said in a live-streamed address. “This is not where we want to be 1.5 years into the pandemic.” The County Executive said the current 781 active case count is right in line with last year when there were 769 active cases the day before Thanksgiving.
“We are setting up in the same way as last year, which was a long and deadly winter Ryan said. After that spike, there were 39 fatalities in December 2020 and 72 in January 2021, the deadliest two months of the pandemic. “If we don’t see this as a wake-up call, we’ll have more loss or similar losses this winter than in 2020-2021,” Ryan warned.
He said the only way to prevent that is to take aggressive action collectively individually. This includes mask-wearing in all public indoor settings, unvaccinated residents getting vaccinated and those who have been vaccinated going for booster shots if it’s been more than six months since their full-series, two shots for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and one for the Johnson and Johnson jab.
He did not rule out officials having to take additional precautions and steps if a similar climb in cases continues without specifying them further.
Ulster County COVID-19 Active Cases
He said each day county officials are seeing more and more new positive cases with the latest seven-day average standing at 6.2 percent. That’s up significantly from the best points of the pandemic when that metric stood at less than 1 percent and much of the rest time when it hovered between two to three percent.
Ryan said perhaps the most concerning metric is hospitalizations, which continue to climb with 18 residents hospitalized with COVID-19 Thanksgiving week, five more than last. There have been two additional fatalities bringing the total to 295 county residents who have lost their lives to the virus since the outset of the pandemic.
Ryan said the county is also seeing more breakthrough cases as time wears on with approximately one-third of the cases now cropping up amongst vaccinated. That was expected, Ryan said, as the effectiveness of vaccines people received earlier this year are waning. “That’s why boosters are so critical.” While the county has seen 1,822 breakthrough cases collectively, Ryan pointed out that that’s still a very small percentage of the 135,000 vaccinated residents in the county.
Booster shots are key
But still, he said he is concerned about the rising amount of breakthrough cases and that’s why he plans to redouble the county’s booster efforts. “Boosters are the most impactful thing we can do at the individual and collective levels,” Ryan said. “We’re encouraging everyone 18 and over if you are past your six-month point. There are plenty of appointments available.”
He said that, as of November 24 the county had dispensed 8,158 boosters at county-run sites and when other partners like pharmacies and medical practices are added in that number jumps to 12,000 boosters administered in the county so far.
On a positive note, Ryan said vaccination percentages continue to increase in the county with 84.7 of county residents 18 years and older have received at least one shot and 75.5 percent of all residents altogether having at least one. He said that equals 134,901 residents who received their first series and 120,000 having had the complete services.
But he warned that means there are still tens of thousands of residents out there that have not have been vaccinated and face far higher risks of serious illness, hospitalization and death. Over 80 percent of those who are getting sick and dying are unvaccinated, he said.
Ryan said he’s especially encouraged with the youth numbers for vaccinations with Ulster County, having already directly administered 1,414 pediatric doses of the Pfizer vaccine to 5-11-year-olds. He said that equals a 17.8 percent vaccination rate for that age group in a short time.
The numbers are even more encouraging for 12-17-year-olds where the vaccination rate in the county stands at 70.4 percent within two months of the shots being approved for these age groups, the County Executive said “That is very good news,” he added,
He said this explains by case counts are higher in area elementary schools than high schools.
Local Trends, Reflecting state, national trends
Ryan said local trends are reflecting those in the Hudson Valley and statewide. And while the county’s 6.3 percent positivity rate is higher than the statewide average of 4.9 percent, things are far better than Western New York where there’s what Ryan billed a “wildfire spread” of COVID-19 infections.
He pointed to Buffalo in Erie County where the executive had to take aggressive steps to contain an outbreak that has hospitals there at 90 percent capacity.
“They’ve taken much more aggressive action,” Ryan said. “That’s not where we want to be.”
He said it remains to see what will happen and if hospitals could be overrun again like early in the pandemic.
Ulster County will be offering a number of vaccination clinics for both children and adults along with booster clinics the week beginning November 29 at the old Best Buy store at the Hudson Valley Mall. Walk-ins are available but cannot be guaranteed. Due to high demand for the Moderna booster, appointments are strongly recommended for the county POD site.
To schedule an appointment at a county-run clinic, or to view other vaccination locations and more information about the vaccines and booster shots see https://covid19.ulstercountyny.gov/vaccine-resource-center/ or call the County’s COVID Recovery Service Center at (845) 443-8888.