COVID CORNER | Pandemic starting another chapter as 2021 heads to a close

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Starting at 9 a.m. on Monday, COVID-19 testing kits were being handed out in the Bronx at the corner of Morrison and Westchester avenues. The kits are being distributed throughout the week
Photo courtesy NYC Health + Hospitals

As 2021 comes to a close, New York is grappling with the latest chapter in the ceaseless COVID-19 pandemic. State hospitalizations skyrocketed over the holiday weekend — topping 5,500 for the first time since late February — as the volume of omicron cases balloon throughout New York City.

The Bronx reported a whopping 3,401 new cases on Dec. 26, a continuation of the record-high case counts seen on Dec. 18, when the borough had 1,365 confirmed COVID-19 cases — its highest single-day case increase since Feb. 13. On Dec. 20, City Councilman Kevin Riley, District 12, announced on Twitter that he had tested positive for the coronavirus. Riley, who is fully vaccinated, did experience symptoms and was quarantining. Then, two days later, Councilwoman-elect Althea Stevens, District 16, also announced that she had tested positive for the virus and was dealing with mild symptoms.

A far cry from the progress made in curbing the delta variant in June and July, the Bronx averaged 1,768 new confirmed cases per day over the last week. Data courtesy Covid Act Now

Of additional concern, the Bronx has also seen its positivity rate spike from 1.2% at the end of November to 13.5% entering Tuesday. But due to immense progress with vaccinations, the rise in cases hasn’t overwhelmed Bronx ICU units, with 80% of local ICU’s filled and just 47 COVID hospitalizations in the past seven days.

Entering Tuesday, roughly 1,115,733 Bronxites — 78.7% — have received at least one dose of vaccines and 67% are considered fully vaccinated, which accounts for COVID-19 booster shots.

However, the rise of the omicron variant has led public health officials and New York officials to act accordingly. As of Tuesday, the nation is averaging 139,764 new cases each day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University — up 16% from a week ago.

U.S. health officials have shortened isolation restrictions for those who test positive for the coronavirus and shortening the time that those exposed to the virus have to quarantine.

According to the CDC, people with the virus can leave isolation after five days, a number down from the previous guidance of 10 days. People exposed to the virus can also leave quarantine after five days. The CDC announced the changes Monday.

CDC officials said the guidance is in keeping with growing evidence that the coronavirus is most infectious in the two days before and three days after symptom onset. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top U.S. infectious disease expert, said the U.S. should also consider a vaccination mandate for domestic air travel, signaling a potential embrace of an idea the Biden administration has previously considered.

Additionally, the definition of what it means to be fully vaccinated is likely to change.

The CDC considers a person fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose in a two-shot series, such as the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, or two weeks after the single-dose J&J/Janssen vaccine.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Biden administration is considering using the phrase “up to date” instead of “fully vaccinated.” The CDC has confirmed that anyone — regardless of vaccination status — can likely spread the omicron variant to other people.

With at-home COVID tests in short supply and long wait times being seen at testing facilities throughout the borough, Bronx residents flocked to a newly-opened, state-run COVID testing site in the Concourse Village Community Center on Monday. The addition of more state-run testing sites and shift to indoor locations like MTA Subway stations is a part of Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul’s efforts to mobilize testing efforts.

“We are working to make testing as widely available and accessible as possible for New Yorkers,” Hochul said last week. “These new walk-in testing opportunities at our MTA subway stations will provide greater testing access and support our efforts to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe during this winter surge.”

Read our previous update on COVID-19 here.

Reach Robbie Sequeira at rsequeira@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes. 

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