Column by Richard Sternberg, M.D.
There are 3006 counties, 14 boroughs, 11 census areas, 64 parishes, and multiple independent cities in the United States. The good news is that The Center for Disease Control reports that only 79 of these have a high incidence of COVID transmission.
The bad news is that of the 79, 36 or almost half are in or surround Central New York. Risk in Otsego County is only moderate, but it is contiguous to high-risk areas.
On Friday of last week, Otsego County reported 47 new COVID cases. This represents approximately a four-to-five-fold increase from one month ago. Testing positivity is up to 8.8%. What are we doing wrong?
On the relatively good side, there have been only 16 deaths year-to-date in Otsego County attributed to COVID. Case rate is increasing, but it does not appear that the death rate is increasing, at least not significantly.
In the past week alone, the person whom I went to visit on Saturday wouldn’t let me in his house because his wife tested positive that morning. The visit devolved into a shouting conversation from about 60 feet apart.
A person who was supposed to go with me to an event this week had been sick from COVID and had to cancel in order to catch up at work. I’ve been told of other people locally who also came down with it. All these people had been vaccinated and thankfully all had relatively mild cases.
One possible cause for the increase is the emergence of a new strain of Omicron. We had previously talked about COVID BA.1 and then discussed a variant, BA.2. Now we have to deal with BA.2.12. Another possible cause is the removal of almost all restrictions with the only ones left in place being a requirement in New York State to wear a mask on public transportation.
Sadly, what would slow down the spread is unlikely to be practiced locally. We need to go back to masks for all activities indoors and all close interactions outdoors. Employees in restaurants need to continue to wear masks. We need to continue social distancing indoors. And of course, everybody needs to be vaccinated — though I will acknowledge that a recent COVID infection does give some immunity. Nonetheless, one of the people I mentioned above is having their second case in nine months.
People have brought up concerns about vaccinations. Indeed Johnson & Johnson vaccination is essentially being withheld in most cases because it has a higher risk of complications and side effects than Pfizer or Moderna. Not to say that it would have been better to not be vaccinated, but there are safer alternatives.
The question of getting a second booster has been brought up, and many people who have been fully vaccinated and boosted once are delaying getting boosted the second time. If you’ve already tolerated three vaccinations, especially of only one specific type, you are very, very unlikely to have a complication with a second booster. Second boosters are now recommended five months after the first for everyone over 50, people with immune compromise, or high-risk issues. I myself have already had the second booster and frankly, if it is available I will get a third, and a fourth, and continue ad infinitum every five months, until it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt that there is no benefit for additional boosters.
So, we are now at risk of developing a high transmission rate. This can be tamped down as we’ve done in the past by social measures and vaccination. Now is not the time to stop taking this disease seriously.
Dr. Richard Sternberg, retired Bassett Hospital orthopedic surgeon, provides his perspective during the COVID-19 threat.