What to Know
- New York state smashed its single-day COVID case record for the 2nd straight day Thursday, reporting 74,207 positives, an 11% increase over Wednesday's staggering numbers as hospitalizations rise
- Virus hospitalizations are at early February levels and climbing, with NY reporting 7,373 patients as of Thursday, a 9% increase in the last day, and 1,000+ ICU patients for the first time since early March
- While this intense omicron wave is expected to be shorter-lived than the delta one, Gov. Kathy Hochul says she expects a peak on all core COVID metrics next month and says the state is prepared to handle it
New York smashed its single-day COVID case record for the second straight day Thursday, reporting at least 74,207 new positives as the omicron surge stretches hospitals further, according to the latest update from the governor's update.
Meanwhile, hospitalizations continue to climb. As recently as the second week of December, Gov. Kathy Hochul assured New Yorkers "this isn't March 2020 or even January 2021," citing admissions totals well below January's peaks near 9,300.
Statewide COVID hospitalizations have well more than doubled since then and now total 7,373, with Hochul adding another 606 to the mounting count on Thursday. That's the highest hospitalization total since Feb. 9 and fewer than 600 admissions shy of where the total stood exactly a year ago. It has risen 138% since Dec. 1.
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A total of 1,020 COVID patients are in state ICUs, an increase of 58 over Wednesday's report. It's the first time since early March the number cracked 1,000.
To the governor's point, New York does have more tools at its disposal than it did in January 2021 or December 2020 and certainly an arsenal more than it did at the start of the pandemic. It is deploying them accordingly, Hochul says, as the state faces a "wildly unpredictable" variant that has astonished scientists and health experts alike with its rapid rate of spread and penchant for breakthrough infections.
Breakthrough hospitalizations are far rarer, state data shows, a testament to vaccines' ongoing ability to prevent severe COVID-linked disease and death, officials say. That is the critical reason New York officials believe hospitals will be able to ride out the omicron surge, which isn't expected to peak for another month.
Asked earlier Thursday in a TV appearance on CNN if she thought the state would have to rely on National Guard assistance to cover staff shortages in hospitals, New York Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett acknowledged the rising hospitalization rates and said the state is closely monitoring them.
She also said New York is in regular communication with those troops, but hospital bed capacity across the state is stable for now. The number of hospitals that have had to pause elective procedures to preserve bed capacity is down from November.
"Let's keep focused on getting people vaccinated, let's remember to wear masks, avoid crowds when we can, be careful during the upcoming holiday season about how we plan our time and plan for the most vulnerable person in our group, and make sure that these gatherings remain safe for them,” said Basset, who endured a breakthrough COVID infection herself earlier this month.
The health commissioner says she expects recently adopted state guidance on return-to-work for essential personnel who are fully vaccinated and asymptomatic or have had their symptoms resolve without medication will help fill the gaps.
"We know vaccinated individuals shed less virus than people who are unvaccinated. There are a whole host of reasons to get vaccinated but probably the most important is people who are vaccinated are less sick," Bassett said.
She added that also applies to children, who are experiencing alarming increases of COVID hospitalization, especially in New York City. Bassett said earlier this week that none of the kids in the 5-to-11-year-old age group who are currently hospitalized in New York with the virus had been vaccinated, and just about a quarter of kids aged 12 to 17 currently hospitalized had been inoculated.
"That youngest age group, 5- to 11-year-olds who've been eligible for vaccination for about a month now, we still are seeing too few children vaccinated, something like 30% have gotten their first jab," Bassett said. "That's a number that we really need to see go up, we want people to protect their children."
A just-released CDC study found just 100 serious adverse events for 5-to-11-year-olds out of 8.7 million vaccine doses administered to date, which the agency says underscores the safety of the Pfizer shot and the heightened risk of not getting it.
Statewide, just 17.3% of kids in that youngest-eligible group have completed their vaccine series, the latest data shows. Almost a third (64.4%) of children aged 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated. That compares with respective rates of 16.5% and 71% for those age groups in New York City, which has seen its child COVID hospitalizations quintuple over the last three weeks while state pediatric hospitalizations doubled.
Omicron Variant: The Latest
The data are almost hard to fathom -- more than 22% of all COVID tests in the state came back positive Thursday, and in just the last seven days, about 1.7% of all New York residents have tested positive.
The omicron variant, the first local case of which was reported Dec. 2, accounted for 78% of genetically sequenced positive New York COVID samples uploaded to GISAID, the world's largest repository of COVID-19 sequences, over the last two weeks. That's up from 74.2% a day ago, 11.1% in the two-week period ending Dec. 18 and from 2.2% in the two-week period before that, state data shows.
CDC data for the latest two weeks says omicron could account for anywhere from 70% to 97% of current infections in the New York area for the week ending Dec. 25. Nationally, the prevalence is estimated to be as high as 74%, the agency says.
Ultimately, officials say vaccinations will quell the increases in hospitalizations and deaths associated with the omicron wave -- and those metrics are a much greater concern for them than infections alone. That's why they're urging calm at this time -- and pushing vaccinations and COVID boosters for those who have to get them.