Following winter surge, COVID-19 cases across region on decline

After the massive wave of COVID-19 infections, fueled by the omicron variant, swept across the region beginning in December, the number of cases has now begun to steadily decline.

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Tuesday said statewide cases in New York have dropped 75% from the Jan. 7 peak of 90,132. Cases also dropped 34% in the prior seven days, she said, while cases in the rest of the country had fallen by just 5%.

“So we hope to close the books on this winter surge soon,” she said.

Jan. 7 also marked the day for Suffolk County that saw the highest single-day total of cases since the pandemic began and testing became widely available with 6,992. The number of new cases on Monday dropped to 1,426 as the positivity rate on a seven-day average dipped to 18.3%. The average number of cases dropped from 5,560 per day from Jan. 4-10 to 3,032 from Jan. 11-17.

Suffolk County surpassed a grim milestone over the weekend as more than 4,000 county residents have now died from Covid. Another 17 fatalities on Monday raised the overall total to 4,047.

The governor on Friday expressed optimism about the latest number of cases, saying we’re “turning the corner.”

“I’ve been waiting to say that,” she said. “Turning the corner.”

The decline in cases would follow a similar arc seen during last year’s winter surge when cases began to steadily drop starting in mid-January.

“I want to thank New Yorkers. Thank you for hanging in there with us, through 2020, 2021. Hopefully not too much of 2022,” Ms. Hochul said.

As cases decline, hospitalizations, which have often been described as a lagging indicator, remain an issue.

Dr. Lloyd Simon, senior vice president of medical affairs at Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport, said in a Friday interview that staff have been falling ill with the coronavirus, adding strain to a system that’s already spread thin.

“We’ve been hit in a number of ways. Our total Covid census right now has not been anywhere near as bad as it’s been in the past but we are actually, as of today, at the highest number of Covid patients that we’ve had probably in a year,” he said. 

The hospital — which has 27 beds, according to the state Department of Health — had six COVID-19 patients as of Friday. Forty-eight percent of beds at the hospital were available as of Jan. 17, according to the DOH.

Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, which has 144 total beds, reported a 15% bed availability as of Jan. 17 and a 8% availability on a seven-day average. 

Dr. Jeffrey Zilberstein, the medical director at PBMC, said the hospital has “definitely been crunched” in recent weeks, but has been able to manage the surge without postponing or canceling any other services.

The hospital has seen as many as 60 COVID-19 patients as recently as Monday, according to state data.

“The difference between this time and last time, though, was generally up to about 50% of those weren’t admitted for Covid pneumonia,” he said.

All patients at the hospital are tested for Covid, so the hospital has seen those patients be admitted for a separate reason and test positive in addition.

“They had no idea they had Covid,” he said. “They didn’t have any upper respiratory symptoms.”

He added that the majority of those who were asymptomatic were vaccinated. He said the majority of patients who are hospitalized due to Covid symptoms were not vaccinated, although there are some outlier cases.

The state has begun separating out data to better get a sense of how many patients in hospitals for Covid were admitted for other reasons.

“That was a very important dynamic for us, just another metric for us to look at, to assess the severity of the situation,” Ms. Hochul said, adding that statewide the number is about 42% of Covid-positive patients in hospitals for other reasons.

Dr. Zilberstein said the hospital has been admitting about 10 Covid patients per day, as well as discharging “quite a few as well.”

“We’re starting to see a downtrend, I hope,” he said.

Dr. Simon added that it appears the community rate has peaked but people should still do everything they can to stay as safe as possible. 

“The most important thing is that everybody should get vaccinated and everybody who has been vaccinated should make sure they get boosted as soon as they’re able to get boosted,” Dr. Simon said, emphasizing that people should still be wearing masks. “That’s the most important thing we can do to fight this wave of the pandemic, but unfortunately what could be the next wave of the pandemic.”

He added that health professionals “never know what’s going to come with the next variant” and vaccinations are the best way to prevent falling ill with the virus. Dr. Zilberstein echoed that message, saying vaccination remains “our number one, our number two and our number three priority to make sure the safety of our community is paramount.”