COVID News

Amidst Holiday Merriment, Omicron Surges

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December 27, 2021

By Barrett Seaman–

The post-Christmas COVID news is, alas, predictably bad. As of Sunday, December 26, there were 16,819 active cases of the virus in Westchester County—an eightfold increase over the 2,019 cases just a month ago, and the worst spike since the very first one in the winter of 2020. In terms of percentages, those testing positive a month ago represented two percent of those tested. The day after Christmas, that percentage was 13.7%.

So far, however, Omicron is playing out more or less as expected: it is producing fewer hospitalizations and deaths, with 214 hospitalized going into Christmas versus some 600 at the front end of the outbreak. For those who are vaccinated, symptoms are generally mild, as they were for County Executive George Latimer and his deputy Ken Jenkins, both now released from home-bound quarantine after presenting mild, cold-like symptoms.

At his weekly briefing, Latimer responded to critics who faulted him in early December for declaring a state of emergency. It was not premature to do so, said Latimer. “It was prescient.”

Though the declaration carried with it no mandates or closures, it did launch a campaign to increase availability of both testing and masks, as well as the postponement of large public events and meetings. Since then, there has been a 40% increase in testing in the last two weeks.

Starting on Wednesday, the county, working with Quadrant Bio Sciences, will be opening part of the Westchester County Center for free PVCR COVID-19 testing. They are by appointment only, made three days in advance and for those either presenting symptoms or those who have been exposed to someone who has tested positive. Travel plans are not sufficient reason to be tested. Tests can be scheduled here: https://health.westchestergov.com/

Testing will be conducted through the below schedule:

  • Dec. 29, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Dec. 30, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Jan. 3, Noon – 4 p.m.
  • Jan. 4, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Jan 5, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Jan 6, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Jan 7, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Jan. 10, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Jan. 11, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

 

In Albany, Governor Kathy Hochul announced that the state had received 37 million testing kits that will be distributed around the state, starting with those areas with the highest infection rates. The State Department of Homeland Security is deploying over 100 trucks to deliver kits where needed.

The state is also supporting hospitals in their efforts to increase hospital bed capacity and has deployed the National Guard to help with the logistics of hospital discharges, so that staff can concentrate on active patients. In an effort to shore up staffing needs, exposed healthcare workers previously required to quarantine for 10 days, will now be required to shut in for only five days. The governor said in a later statement: “That’s why on Friday I announced guidance to shorten the isolation window for our critical workforce from 10 to 5 days, and I want to thank the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for now updating its guidance to shorten the recommended time for isolation from 10 to five days for everyone who is asymptomatic, as long as they wear a well-fitting mask.”

“This is not,” assured Health Commissioner Mary Bassett, “about sending people back to work who are sick.” The reduced quarantine period, she said, is a reflection of experience with actual recovery times.

Despite the holiday spike, New York State intends to have children return to school when the holiday break is over early in January. Both the Governor and the County Executive will be conferring with the more than 500 school superintendents in the coming days to strategize on testing measures and masking.

Prior to that comes New Year’s Eve and questions about whether there should be constraints on the usual hoopla. Asked whether and how to celebrate that night, George Latimer’s advice was terse: “Use your noodle,” he said.

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