Suffolk County is seeing the impacts of the surging delta variant.
The local surge in COVID-19 cases corresponds with the trajectory of the more contagious delta variant.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the delta variant represented 6.7% of new SARS-CoV-2 infections in this region at the end of May. At the end of June, it was 55% of new infections in New York. By the end of July, that number shot up to 96%. And as of the week ending Aug. 21, it was more than 99%.
On July 1 in Suffolk, the testing percent-positive on a seven-day rolling average was 0.4%. By Aug. 27 it was 4.6% — a more than 1,000% increase. Testing has nearly doubled in August compared to July, from a daily average of 5,660 tests in July to a daily average of 9,804 in August.
Hospitalizations shot up in Suffolk this month. From Aug. 1 through Aug. 27, 608 people were admitted to Suffolk hospitals with COVID-19 — up from 186 during the month of July. (The August data does not include Aug. 2, which has not yet been reported by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services.)
After last winter’s surge — which began just after Thanksgiving, peaked in mid January and dissipated by the end of May — Suffolk’s confirmed case numbers plummeted and hospitalization numbers soon followed suit. By the end of June, the testing percent-positive rate was 0.2% (13 new cases with 6,091 tests results reported o June 30) and daily hospital admissions were in the single digits.
Last winter’s surge took a quiet toll in Suffolk County, causing a 78% rise in fatalities. By the time the spring 2020 crisis waned, 1,901 Suffolk residents had succumbed to COVID-19 (as of May 31, 2020.) Another 100 deaths were added over last summer (as of the end of August.) By the time the winter surge was over, COVID-19 had claimed the lives of 3,392 Suffolk residents (as of May 31, 2021.) Total confirmed cases grew from 39,643 on May 31, 2020 to 200,520 total confirmed cases on May 31 this year.
Looking back one year, the contrasts are stark. On Aug. 27, 2020 there were 45 people hospitalized with COVID in Suffolk hospitals. On Aug. 27, 2021, there were 226 COVID hospitalizations in Suffolk. There were five new admissions on Aug. 27, 2020 and 35 new admissions on Aug. 27, 2021. The number of COVID patients in ICU shot up from 11 on Aug. 27, 2020 to 36 on Aug. 27, 2021.
Instead, the current test percent-positive, daily hospitalizations, daily new admissions and patients in ICU much more closely track the numbers reported as of Thanksgiving last year — the beginning of the winter surge.
On Nov. 26, the test percent-positive rate was 3.7% on a seven-day average. On Aug. 27 it was 4.6%. Hospitalizations were 205 on Nov. 26 and on Aug. 26 they were 226. There were 39 new admissions on Nov. 26 and 35 on Aug. 27. Forty-five COVID patients were in ICU on Nov. 26 (15 intubated) and 36 were in ICU on Aug. 27 (15 intubated.)
Given airborne transmission of the virus and the increased infectiousness of the delta variant, people are more likely to become infected in indoor spaces, according to the CDC. With the arrival of colder weather and people moving activities and gatherings indoors, health officials say they are concerned about the occurrence of another fall/winter surge.
More than 590,000 Suffolk residents are as yet unvaccinated, according to Suffolk health department data — including more than 200,000 children under age 12 and ineligible to receive the vaccine.
Unvaccinated people are much more likely to get infected and more likely to experience more severe illness, according to the CDC. Health officials say on average, 85% of COVID patients admitted to hospitals are unvaccinated. Peconic Bay Medical Center executive director Amy Loeb said that ratio has been true for COVID admissions at the hospital in Riverhead as well.
Severe illness and hospitalization remains much less likely in children, though areas of the country hardest hit by the delta variant this summer have seen surges in pediatric infections and hospitalizations.
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