Medical experts say that with the omicron variant spreading rapidly and New Year’s gatherings expected to lead to a further increase in infections, the next few weeks will be a particularly dangerous time to engage in public indoor activities.
“I know everyone is frustrated and exhausted, but I would say it’s worth a break for two weeks, which means you’ll probably have to postpone non-essential activities for two weeks,” said Dr. Adhi Sharma, president of Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital in Oceanside.
That means indoor dining and going to cinemas, concerts, sporting events, gyms and other indoor venues where the risk of getting infected with coronavirus is higher, he said. The chance of getting the virus is particularly high this winter because omicron is so contagious, Sharma said.
“We are not looking for a long-term team,” he said. “I think it will go through quickly.”
On Wednesday, 24.3% of coronavirus test results on Long Island were positive, and the 12,633 new COVID-19 cases were nearly twice as many as just two days earlier. The seven-day positivity was 18.78%.
At the end of 2020, there was also an increase in cases and the positivity rate, mainly due to people gathering indoors for the holidays. But this year is far worse because of omicron, experts say. On December 29, 2020, the seven-day positivity on Long Island was 7.49%.
Dr. Bruce Farber, head of public health and epidemiology at Northwell Health, said that with coronavirus, “there has always been risk versus benefit, and everyone has to make their own decisions about what risks they are willing to take.”
But, he said, the level of risk is extremely high now.
“This wave will not last at this level, so no matter what risk people are willing to take at this point, I think that risk will be dramatically lower in a month from now, or at most six weeks,” he said. “I think people should put it into the equation.”
Although the numbers are much higher this winter compared to the same time last year, Sharma expects a fairly similar pattern, with rates peaking in the days following New Year’s gatherings.
Last winter’s peak in seven-day positivity on Long Island was January 8, when it was 9.70%. The peak in a single day was January 5, when 10.48% of the tests were positive.
Avoiding higher-risk activities will also help prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed, Sharma said. COVID-19 hospital admissions on Long Island rose 55% in just six days to 1,230 on Wednesday from 793 on Dec. 24, according to data from the state Department of Health.
Last winter, admissions to the island on January 18 peaked at 1,701.
Unlike last year, hospitals face a severe staff shortage due to omicron, which is much more effective than previous variants at infecting vaccinated people, especially those who have not received booster shots – although the vaccine is still extremely effective in preventing people in becoming seriously ill. This means that fewer healthcare professionals are taking care of a rapidly increasing number of patients.
“We are seeing staff get sick at a rate we have never seen before,” Sharma said.
Friday morning, more than 200 employees in South Nassau were on sick leave with COVID-19, up from about 120 in a single day, Sharma said.
In South Africa, one of the countries hardest hit by omicron early, the number of new cases has dropped dramatically in recent days and weeks after a huge increase.
Farber predicted a similar trajectory in New York.
“The virus, when it burns through so many people so quickly, runs out of people to infect from a practical point of view,” he said. “It can not continue at this pace. There is no doubt that this wave will end. We will have to be clairvoyant to guess whether it will be the first week of January, or the third week of January or the first. week in February. But this wave will not last at this pace for a long time. It just is not possible. “
It is also difficult to predict what level coronavirus infections will remain at after the peak is over.
“Is that plateau getting very, very low, or will it just be lower than it is now?” he asked.
Omicron has not only been able to cause a lot of breakthrough cases in vaccinated people, it is also much better able than previous variants to get people who have previously had COVID-19 to get sick again, Farber said. Studies show that the re-infection rate can be as much as 10 times higher with omicron, he said.
“There is no doubt that omicron causes a dramatic increase in the risk of re-infections,” he said. “The data is very strong.”
Vaccinations have kept the omicron wave from getting worse, said Dr. David Battinelli, senior vice president at Northwell Health. Although the number of admissions is increasing, they would have increased far more without vaccinations.
The effect of vaccinations is also seen in death rates, which are far higher upstate than downstate.
Day after day for the past many months, most people dying of COVID-19 in New York have lived upstate. The disproportionate number of deaths upstate – far fewer people live upstate than downstate – is another indication of how the vaccine remains highly effective against serious illness and death, Battinelli said. Vaccination levels are much lower upstate than on Long Island and in New York City.
“If you are not vaccinated or boosted, you expose yourself to an extraordinary risk,” Battinelli said. “If you are vaccinated and boosted, with both variants, including omicron [and delta], it is a less serious disease. And that is the goal. The goal is to prevent as much infection as you can, but more importantly, to prevent as much serious illness as you can. “
Meanwhile, K-12 schools continue to prepare to return to classes from the holiday season.
Due to the rising incidence, Freeport School District announced that it will operate on a remote schedule next week. The Nassau County District, which attributes about 6,700 students, wrote on its website that “due to the increase in positivity rates on Long Island, along with the potential for staffing,” Freeport will go far from Monday through Jan. 7.
With Joie Tyrrell
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