This story has been updated as of 7:00p.m. Tuesday, December 7
By Barrett Seaman—
Since their springtime lows, the metrics by which the state and the county measure the seriousness of the COVID pandemic locally have been creeping up steadily. Infection rates that were once comfortably under two percent are now over three percent and still climbing. It was expected that there would be a spike after Thanksgiving, and there has been, but the scenario that unfolded at this time last year portends more and higher spikes going into the holidays.
That was before vaccines were available. There were 5,764 Westchester residents infected as of November 20, 2020. Active cases then soared within two months to nearly 12,000, and the infection rate rose from 4.7% to 6.6%.
With roughly 90% of county residents now vaccinated, the numbers are a fraction of that, and no one expects the virus to do that much damage again this year, although until more is known about the Omicron variant, no one can say for sure what will happen.
At his Monday weekly briefing in anticipation of bad news to come, County Executive George Latimer declared “a state of emergency”…sort of. He laid down four markers that, if surpassed, will lead the county to take further steps. Those markers are:
An infection rate of 3.0%
COVID hospitalizations of 100
Ten deaths in a week
3,000 active cases
As of Saturday, the infection rate was already over the line, with 3.3%. Hospitalizations were at 84 (although there are plenty of spare beds in the county’s hospitals). Deaths have been averaging just one a week, but the number of active cases, at 2,867, is closing in on Latimer’s threshold of 3,000.
On Tuesday, Latimer signed the state if emergency, although for the moment, Latimer said, the “state of emergency carries no specific governmental action.” However,” Latimer said, “this is the moment of time when I have to ask each of you to understand that we are now crossing to a level of emergency, and that that emergency requires each of us to ask ourselves, what can we do.”
In other words, he is leaving it up to individual citizens, businesses and organizations to find ways they can tighten up the protections that are already available. First and foremost is to get vaccinated if not vaccinated already, get a booster if already vaccinated, and put those masks back on again. “If you prize your freedom,” he said, “if you prize individual action, this is the time to use it.”
Unlike New York City, where Mayor DeBlasio today mandated all private sector employees to get vaccinated, Westchester’s chief executive officer is counting on his constituents to police themselves. If they do not, or if individual actions cannot stem the tide of infections, then, said Latimer, “…we have to take government action on behalf of the whole society.” What that government action will be was left unsaid.
Since then, on Tuesday, Latimer revealed that a 13-year-old Westchester resident has been diagnosed with the Omicron variant, becoming the first case in the county. No further details of the patient’s whereabouts or severity of condition have been published.