Dutchess County, at the end of last week, had more than 1,000 active cases of COVID-19 among residents for the first time since mid-April.
Just days into December, this year’s holiday surge is already packing a stronger punch than the summer spike that resulted in more than 40 deaths in two months.
Last year’s surge began similarly, and ended with 217 county residents dying from Dec. 1 to March 1. That, despite safety precautions that included capacity limitations and mandatory mask use while in indoor public spaces.
No such mask requirements are in place to stem the spread this year amid the rush of shoppers in packed stores and holiday gatherings. Unless they come from Albany, they’re unlikely to come from the county, officials said Monday.
“New York State has historically issued mandates of this nature,” County Executive Marc Molinaro’s Office said. “We do not expect such mandate at the county level.”
Still, while the number of cases at the start of this month is on pace with a year ago, the number of patients hospitalized with the illness this week is two-thirds what it was then.
And though the average positivity rate in the county is higher than at any point since the beginning of February, when the vaccine was scarce for those born after 1960, the surge is within the expectations of health officials, who have said vaccinations will keep it from becoming as deadly as spikes in the past. While vaccines do not render recipients immune to transmission, they have been shown to drastically reduce the chances of infection and result in less severe cases.
“The rise in case counts is not unexpected as we are experiencing colder weather, a new variant, and are likely seeing the impacts of gatherings during Thanksgiving,” a statement from the county said. “We remain hopeful that transmission and severity will remain well below the trends we experienced last year.”
Though it is not requiring them, the county does encourage residents to wear a mask while in indoor public spaces, regardless of vaccination status. It also is encouraging vaccinations and, for those who are several months removed from completing their vaccine series, a booster. That’s in addition to the safety suggestions that have been in place since March 2020 encouraging hand washing, social distancing and staying home if you feel symptoms.
Cases have likewise been rising around the state, with the highest increases coming in areas with lower vaccination rates. Erie County recently mandated all individuals wear masks while in indoor public spaces. Ulster County over the weekend issued guidance strongly encouraging residents to do so, but did not issue a mandate.
Where the Dutchess stands
As of Sunday, the most recent day for which the county shared data on its online dashboard, there were 1,065 active cases among county residents. That’s the highest total since April 14 — the month in which the vaccine was made available to any resident over 12 years old without restrictions — and a 70% increase in six days.
The average seven-day positivity rate was up to 5.8%, having increased every day since Nov. 25. It’s the highest percentage since Feb. 1.
While three residents were recorded as having died with COVID on Dec. 1, just 13 total have died of reasons relating to the illness since the start of November.
There were 45 residents hospitalized with the illness Sunday, and at least 38 have been hospitalized each day since Nov. 20. While that number is higher than over the previous two months, area hospital capacity has yet to be overstressed by the surge. The totals are also not showing the consistent climb of a year ago, when the number of hospitalized patients increased every day from Nov. 20 to Dec. 2, and jumped from 10 on Nov. 7 to 160 on Jan. 5.
County officials called hospitalizations a “lagging indicator” and warned they expect a rise in the coming weeks. However, they are “optimistic” residents’ vaccination rate “is having a positive impact in controlling the spread and severity” of the illness.
As of Sunday, 80.7% of county residents ages 18 and older had received at least one vaccine dose, and 71.4% of all residents. In all, 63.4% had completed their vaccine series. Those totals have only grown slowly through the fall, even as more age groups have become eligible to receive a vaccine and some professions have had inoculations mandated.
The county is still also lagging behind the statewide population. Across New York, 74.7% of residents had received at least once dose, including 86.3% of the 18-and-over population, and 67.2% were fully vaccinated. No statistics are yet available for those who have received a booster and the total number of those who have had enough time pass since completing their vaccine series for efficacy to wane.
This article originally appeared on Poughkeepsie Journal: COVID in Dutchess: As holiday surge intensifies, no precautions coming