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CDC urges masks in 37 New York counties, including GLOW region, due to high COVID levels
By GEOFF HERB ERT, syracuse.com
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now urging masks in 37 counties in New York state, all located in the Upstate New York region, due to high COVID-19 levels.
The CDC updated its COVID Community Levels map on Thursday showing areas where COVID is at a “high” (orange), “medium” (yellow) or “low” (green) risk. More than 90% of the U.S. is still in the green but 56 counties nationwide are at a high risk, up from 40 last week, and most of them are in the Empire State.
They include Genesee, Livingston, Orleans and Wyoming counties.
By comparison, only three counties in New York were considered high risk three weeks ago: Onondaga, Oswego and Cayuga counties. The list grew to 10 counties two weeks ago, 23 last week and now 37.
Central New York is clearly the epicenter for the spread, as detailed in a recent New York Times article. Areas with high COVID risk now include three counties in Pennsylvania and eight in Vermont, along New York state’s borders; altogether, 50 of the nation’s 56 counties with high COVID levels are in New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and New Hampshire.
Another 12 NYS counties are currently at medium risk.
State and local regulations may not require it, but masks are recommended indoors in areas with high COVID community levels under new CDC guidelines released in February. Masking recommendations are now based on three factors — COVID hospitalizations, hospital capacity and new COVID cases — focusing more on preventing hospitals from getting overwhelmed and less on positive tests, which spiked during the omicron wave in December and January.
Masks are not recommended indoors, including in schools, in areas with medium or low community levels, though immunocompromised people and others at high risk for severe illness may still want to wear face coverings indoors and avoid large crowds.
COVID community levels were low enough at the beginning of March that masks weren’t recommended in any New York state county, but cases and hospitalizations increased in Syracuse and the surrounding area due to the rise of highly contagious BA.2 variants, the end of widespread mask-wearing, and the waning of vaccines. The state health department said Central New York is the first in the U.S. to see “significant community spread” of more contagious omicron strains BA.2.12 and the related BA.2.12.1, which have spread rapidly.
Hospitalizations are a bigger factor than positive tests in recommending masks under the new CDC guidelines, but hospitalizations have increased, too. The number of Onondaga County residents hospitalized with COVID-19 have more than doubled, from 51 at the end of March to 126 on Thursday, according to County Executive Ryan McMahon.
“Hospitals are stressed,” McMahon tweeted Thursday. “To give perspective at Upstate today COVID patients make up 7% of their total patients.”
In the Finger Lakes region, 328 people were hospitalized due to COVID-19, include 28 in intensive care units as of April 30, according to data from the state Department of Health.
The data reflects 27.27 hospitalized COVID patients per 100,000 residents. The seven-day average of COVID hospitalizations was 27.14 people per 100,000.
The number of people hospitalized in the region due to COVID-19 was last below 200 a day on April 14, when there were 183 patients, including 17 in ICU. Those numbers reflected 15.21 hospitalized COVID-19 patients per 100,000 residents, and a seven-day average of 14.21 patients per 100,000, according to state data.
Hospital bed capacity in the Finger Lakes was at 201 as of April 30, or 9% of the 2,283 beds available. The seven-day average of beds available was 7%. Among ICU beds, there were 38 available in the region, or 14% of the 276 total ICU beds available. The seven-day average of ICU beds available was 11%, according to state health department data.
In the GLOW region, Genesee County had 33 of 81 beds available, or 41%, and a seven-day average bed availability of 29%. The county had four of nine ICU beds available, or 44% and a seven-day average of 25%.
Livingston County had 27 of 47 beds available, or 60%, with a seven-day average of 52%. Of ICU beds in Livingston four of eight were available, or 50%, and the seven-day average was 46%.
Orleans County had four of 18 beds available, or 22%. The seven-day bed availability average was 19%. There are no ICU beds in Orleans County.
In Wyoming County, six of 30 beds were available, or 20%, with a seven-day average of 18%. In the ICU, none of the seven beds were available. The seven-day average availability of ICU beds was 9%.
The CDC updates its Community Levels map every Thursday. The map provides recommendations for mask-wearing, but does not indicate where face coverings are mandated.
Masks are still required in New York state for health care facilities, nursing homes, courts, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, public transportation, and taxis and ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.
Kids also have to wear them in schools in some instances, such as after being exposed to someone with COVID for 10 days.
The CDC also says anyone with COVID-19 symptoms or who test positive should wear masks, regardless of vaccination status or the risk level where they live.