By Barrett Seaman
Ever since New York State went into its PAUSE lockdown in mid-March, there has been a daily online ritual, starting with Governor Cuomo’s 11:30 a.m. briefing from wherever he happened to be and ending later in the day with a briefing by Westchester County Executive George Latimer, typically accompanied by a map of the county depicting the headcounts of COVID-19 cases for each and every village, town and city in the county.
For the first few weeks, everything seemed to be going up—infections, hospitalizations, intubations and ultimately deaths, a growing accumulation of disaster. Then the pandemic’s arc peaked and started a slow but steady trip down. Cuomo’s Draconian shutdown, it seemed, was beginning to pay off; Westchester’s key indicators were dropping too. His charts illustrated the good news. But the daily maps released by the county were still going up.
In the rivertowns, the counts were modest from the beginning—nowhere near the numbers emanating from high-density communities like Yonkers, New Rochelle and White Plains, but more than were indicated in up-county places like Bedford and North Salem. But they kept going up.
On April 20, for example, Sleepy Hollow, which, because of the density of its inner village housing has always had the most cases, reported 223 infections, representing 2.2% of its population. Irvington had only 52 cases—less than one percent. Tarrytown and Dobbs Ferry, the villages with the largest populations of the four, were in the middle, with 168 and 147 cases each.
Not two weeks later, Dobbs Ferry was at 259 total cases—two of them new that day. Tarrytown registered three new cases in a day to reach 253. Sleepy Hollow had amassed 334 coronavirus cases. If the other indices—hospitalizations, intubations, deaths—were all going in the right direction, why were these maps looking so grim?
The answer came this week when the maps and their accompanying charts changed. The number of infections in each municipality appeared in parentheses, while a new, much smaller number appeared above it. Yet a third number appeared on the chart, representing new cases as of that day. Of Sleepy Hollow’s 334 cases as of May 6, only 50 were “active,” that is patients still suffering from the disease. And none of them was new that day. Of Tarrytown’s 253 total infections, only 44 were still active, although three new cases had turned up overnight. And the next day:
5/7 total #infections %pop. Active cases new cases
Dobbs Ferry 257 2.3% 29 5
Irvington 76 1.2% 8 2
Tarrytown 261 2.3% 38 12
Sleepy Hollow 338 3.4% 44 10
The difference—and it is large and getting larger—is that the old number attached to each community represented everyone in that village who had contracted COVID-19 from the very beginning, without acknowledging that as time passed, most of those patients recovered. But there are a lot fewer—and getting fewer still. Phew!
In his briefing Thursday afternoon, George Latimer did the math for us:
Altogether, there have been 30,708 cases in the county, starting from the first case in New Rochelle. Of those, 25,959 have survived two weeks or longer, leaving 4,749 active cases. That number compares with a peak in mid-March of over 12,000 new cases-a-day.
Meanwhile, other indicators point in the right direction. Westchester has now tested more than 100,000 of its citizens, representing more than ten percent of the population. Antibody testing of frontline workers and first responders is ongoing at the County Center in White Plains, a harbinger of the emergence of a cadre of providers presumably immune from the virus. Another positive indicator reported by the governor Thursday morning: the rate of infection among healthcare workers in Westchester County is half that of the general population. The men and women in direct line of fire from this virus are faring well—no doubt because they are taking proper care of themselves, as should we all.