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Sternberg on COVID this week: Getting better?

We’ve been hearing reports that the spike in cases and deaths from the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has peaked and is decreasing. This is certainly true in metropolitan New York. Epidemiologists have estimated that greater than 40 percent of the City’s population has been infected with Omicron even though the confirmed case rate is much lower. Most people infected there probably experienced mild or no symptoms and didn’t even bother to get tested.

In my experience among my friends, many have told me they or a member of their family had mild or moderate symptoms of a flu-like illness and those who bothered to be tested almost all came back as COVID-positive. When their asymptomatic family members were also tested at about the same time, they too were positive.

In my mind, COVID variant Omicron BA.1 probably has reached a herd immunity level in NYC. This would explain the decreasing case curve.

I  looked at our numbers in Otsego County. The most recent report that I have comes from February 3, 2022. You might want to go online and look at the Otsego County Department of Health COVID-19 Information Center while you read through this. The easiest way to get there is to Google Otsego County Department of Health and follow the links.

You might notice two graphs near the midportion of the page. The first shows the cases reported per month, and you will see a giant spike for January 2022 — much higher than any other point in the pandemic. Below this there is cases reported per day and, while there is a larger daily variation due to when reports are registered, there is definitely a downward trend to the curve.

Things are getting better, but if you look more closely you will see that is only relative to recent numbers. Compared to our numbers earlier in the pandemic, they are still high.

The number of cases of COVID-19 in the county year-to-date through February 3 is 3182 and the number of deaths is 10. In all of 2021, the number of cases was 6032 and deaths was 21. These represent a rate of both cases and deaths about five times that of last year. So, while things are getting better, and I expect until we get the next breakout strain they will continue to do so, the actual numbers are not as great when compared to earlier in the pandemic.

It’s not yet time to throw caution to the wind.

According to a February 3 report from Dr. Rochelle Wallensky, Director of the Center for Disease Control, studies show you are 97 times less likely to die of COVID-19 if you have received a booster shot than those who have not been vaccinated. If you received your booster more than five months ago it is time for another. Additionally, according to another CDC report published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (subscription on-line is free if you want to sign up) studies prove masks lower risk. They found properly-worn masks decreased risk of catching the disease by 56 percent for cloth, 66 percent for surgical, and 83 percent for N95/KN95 masks.

Truly we are doing well, but by no means have yet won the war. These numbers do suggest, however, that those of us properly protected are probably taking reasonable risks in going about most — if not all — of our pre-COVID activities. If only we could convince (I’m not holding my breath that we will) the remaining hold-outs that if they were vaccinated and wore masks we would have this beaten down as much as possible and they and their families would not be at risk.

The rest of us who have been compliant are pretty much doing well.

— Dr. Richard Sternberg, retired Bassett Hospital orthopedic surgeon, is providing his professional perspective during the COVID-19 pandemic. Also a Village trustee, he lives in Cooperstown.


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