CANTON — Dr. Andrew F. Williams, president of the county Board of Health, warned St. Lawrence County legislators Monday night that now is the “calm before the storm” due to skyrocketing cases of Omicron across the country and New York state.
Despite being less likely to cause severe illness as opposed to the Delta variant of the coronavirus, Dr. Williams said people need to be concerned about Omicron because there is anticipated to be a dramatic increase in the number of infections within the county and the north country region in the coming weeks.
This is concerning, he said, because even if the rate of hospitalization from Omicron is half or even one-third of Delta, if the cases are five times greater, then hospitalizations will soar past local capacity, overwhelming area hospital systems.
However, he said, due to a combination of widespread vaccination, natural immunity, and viral evolution, Omicron may mark the transition from COVID-19 being a pandemic to an endemic, which could allow for a transition toward normalcy later this year.
In order to prevent the worst consequences of the Omicron surge and best protect oneself, Dr. Williams stressed the importance of vaccination.
He said vaccination continues to be the safest and most predictable way to develop immunity, as opposed to natural immunity through prior exposure, which can risk severe illness and death.
Although the possibility of breakthrough cases remains reasonably high, Dr. Williams said vaccines are still effective against Omicron, and the primary purpose of vaccines is to reduce the risk of severe illness causing hospitalization.
According to data from New York state, Dr. Williams said unvaccinated people are 14 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19, and that vaccination is 94% effective at preventing hospitalization.
Jolene F. Munger, the county’s interim director of public health, said that 75% of hospitalizations in the county for December were unvaccinated individuals.
As of Tuesday, there were 1,039 active cases in St. Lawrence County, with 18 hospitalizations and 159 cumulative deaths — an uptick of 13 fatalities since last month.
Every Monday from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Public Health Department, 80 Route 310 in Canton, is hosting a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination clinic that includes first, second and booster doses for people ages 12 and older.
Every Tuesday from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., the department is hosting a Moderna booster clinic for people ages 18 and older.