In Brief – Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan held a sobering COVID-19 update on Facebook Tuesday afternoon, revealing 23 new cases of COVID-19 had been diagnosed in the last 24 hours and the number of people hospitalized with the virus had risen to 12, the highest since early May.
Ryan warned of a second wave of the coronavirus and entreated county residents to abide by COVID-19 protocols.
“I want to be very clear,” Ryan said. “I think this is a make-or-break moment for us as a county and a community, where we have a chance to remain proactive and blunt a much more significant second wave.”
Ulster County’s rising caseload comes as the coronavirus surges across the country. The number of reported daily cases in the U.S. bottomed out at about 40,000 in mid-September. It took 44 days for the count to rise to 80,000, then only 11 days for it to rise to 120,000, according to data from The New York Times. Daily deaths, which lag cases, have risen by nearly a third since mid-October.
In Ulster County, there are 311 active cases of COVID-19, a level not seen since mid-June, when the county was recovering from the pandemic’s first wave, which peaked in the Mid-Hudson Valley in late April.
Fifty-six new cases were discovered in the county in the last 72 hours, Ryan said Tuesday, and 23 of those cases were discovered in the last 24 hours.
Of the 12 people in the county hospitalized with the virus, one is in the ICU. Hospital capacity remains able to handle the current caseload, with 66 remaining hospital beds in the county and 20 ventilators, according to Ryan.
Ryan said the county should use the new data as a “call to action,” and asked residents to recommit to social distancing, hand-washing and wearing masks. He noted several more upstate areas were under restrictions as part of Gov. Andrew plan to place strictures on small hotspots around the state.
“I really don’t want us to get to that place,” Ryan said.
County residents were engaging in activities they would have never considered doing during the spring surge, Ryan said, and although he understood the fatigue with restrictions, everyone needed to act more carefully.
Ryan also mentioned some positive news, yesterday’s announcement by Pfizer that their vaccine candidate gave 90 percent of people immunity to the virus in large-scale human trials.
It is not yet known if the vaccine conveys permanent immunity, or whether it protects against infection, as opposed to only disease, according to science writer Lissa Harris – only preventing the disease could still allow infected individuals to spread the virus even if they do not become sick themselves.
Residents should not drop their guard because of the announcement, Ryan said.
“In the short-term, [the vaccine] is not going to help us,” he said.
Though Pfizer may have an approved vaccine by the end of the month, producing billions of doses, not mention distributing them – the vaccine must be transported in sub-zero temperatures – is another matter.
Pfizer said it will be able to produce as many as 1.2 billion doses by the end of 2021 – still not nearly enough to inoculate the world.
Though Ulster County is undeniably doing worse, it is faring better than most of the country. It has less cases per capita than Rockland or Sullivan counties, and New York as a whole has less cases per capita than 44 other states.