State’s positivity rate continues slide, but hospitals still crushed

A person receives a COVID-19 test on Jan. 4 in New York City. Emerging data signal the strain is beginning to loosen its grip. Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images/TNS

The omicron COVID-19 variant continued to pummel New York state’s hospitals on Monday, but emerging data signal the strain is beginning to loosen its grip.

The statewide coronavirus test-positivity rate slid for the seventh straight day on Monday, dropping to a still-steep 19.4%, as medical centers battled what could prove the roughest stretch of the winter omicron wave.

Hospitals across the state were treating more than 12,000 patients infected with COVID-19, according to figures released by Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office. And the statewide virus hospitalization tally, which climbed by 275 in the latest data batch, was almost 30% higher Monday than its 2021 peak.

The state’s COVID-19 death toll rose by 135.

Dozens of upstate hospitals in high-risk regions were asked to freeze elective surgeries to spare bed space, the state Health Department said Saturday. The virus has also stretched staffing thin in medical centers.

“We have the tools to fight this winter surge, and how quickly we turn the corner will depend on our actions,” Hochul said in a Monday statement, urging parents to vaccinate their children, who have appeared to face increased risk during the omicron onslaught.

“Wear a mask to help stop the spread, and stay home if you aren’t feeling well,” Hochul added in the statement. “Let’s learn from the lessons of the past and finally put this winter surge behind us.”

Hospital admissions lag cases, and the hospitalization rate appears to be starting to crest after surging dramatically in the first days of January. Hochul and health officials are hoping the drop off the omicron mountain will come as rapidly as the ascent.

In recent days, Hochul’s office has started releasing data reflecting how many infected New Yorkers were hospitalized for reasons other than COVID-19. In the latest batch of figures, almost 50% of infected patients in New York City were hospitalized for noncoronavirus reasons.

The welcome data point reflects the omnipresence of omicron, which spreads ferociously but rarely generates severe illness in people who are fully vaccinated and boosted.

Statewide, 42% of infected New Yorkers were hospitalized for reasons other than the virus, according to Monday’s figures.

It is not clear how quickly omicron will recede. In South Africa, which faced one of the earliest omicron outbreaks, cases fell quickly after soaring. But it is summer there, and the country has a relatively young population.

Dr. Mary Bassett, the state health commissioner, expressed caution in a news conference on Friday when asked to chart the path of the virus.

“It will end — that much I’m prepared to make an assured statement about,” Bassett said of the omicron peak. “I think that we can expect a difficult January, but that things should be much better by February.”

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