- The health alerts for the XBB.1.5 variant come as NY saw COVID reinfection reports increase 65% in a month.
- Meanwhile, the use of bivalent boosters remains low with only 14% of New York’s population up to date on COVID vaccinations.
Nearly 1,600 New Yorkers have died from COVID-19 since Dec. 1 as the highly contagious new XBB.1.5 variant took hold, and experts are now warning that outbreaks can only get worse for a while. post-holiday wave.
The health alerts come as New York suffered more than 15,000 total COVID-19 deaths in 2022, bringing the total number of deaths from the pandemic in the state above 77,000, according to federal data. .
As access to vaccines and medical treatment keeps current COVID-19 risks less severe than at the start of the pandemic, health officials have urged people to wear masks and keep up to date with vaccinations as long as the virus remained a threat.
One silver lining is that New York’s historically bad flu season appeared to peak in mid-December, at nearly 53,000 in a week.
Still, the flu remained widespread, with around 23,000 cases for the week ending Dec. 31, continuing pressure on New York’s health care system as it braced for more COVID-19 patients, according to the latest. state data.
Uptake of bivalent COVID vaccine remains low
Despite health alerts, only about 14% of New Yorkers are up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations. Many bivalent booster doses have remained on the shelves since the September release.
Full immunization among New Yorkers is up slightly from 11% in early December, but still far from the level health officials say that could help tip the scales in the fight against infections and serious illnesses.
Health care: NY to begin enforcing nursing home staffing minimums amid ‘system collapse’ concerns
The new boosters, which target both the original virus and the BA.4/BA.5 variants common this summer, are more protective against XBB.1.5 than the previous boosters. People who are up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines probably aren’t shedding as much virus for as long, so they’re also less likely to pass it on, experts said.
A past infection offers some protection against serious disease, but that protection is highly unreliable, the experts added.
For example, hospitalizations for COVID-19 reached nearly 17 per 100,000 population in late December among unvaccinated New Yorkers, up from around 10 per 100,000 in the fall and summer, according to data from the State.
In contrast, this rate reached around 2 per 100,000 population among New Yorkers vaccinated at the end of December after hovering around 1.5 per 100,000 previously.
COVID reinfections on the rise
Meanwhile, New Yorkers with a history of COVID-19 could find themselves sick again in the coming weeks, as the new variant has been shown to be effective at reinfection.
For example, nearly 58,000 New Yorkers experienced reinfections from Nov. 28 through Dec. 25, a 65% increase from the previous month’s tally of reinfections, according to the latest state data.
Additionally, thousands of additional reinfections have surely gone unreported due to the widespread use of home testing.
New York Hospital Capacity and Tax Concerns
Many New York hospitals have also urged state and federal lawmakers to increase government funding to offset ongoing pandemic-related fiscal pressures in health care, including high patient loads and labor shortages.
A recent industry group survey of hospitals across the state found:
- 49% of hospitals report reducing and/or eliminating services to alleviate staffing issues while ensuring their most critical services remain available to patients.
- 100% of hospitals report nursing shortages that they cannot fill; more than 75% said other key worker positions could not be filled.
- 64% of hospitals report a negative operating margin (losing money comparing income and expenses related to care); 85% report negative or unsustainable operating margins less than 3%.
USA TODAY’s Karen Weintraub contributed to this report.