Viral activity in November far surpasses any prior month 

OSWEGO — Roughly one in 60 Oswego County residents have now been infected with COVID-19, according to the latest data provided by the county Health Department, and more than half of those individuals contracted the virus in November.

The 506 active cases of the coronavirus recorded on Nov. 30 was the highest since the pandemic started in March, and the county topped 2,000 total cases just two days into the final month of the year. Cases of COVID-19 rose steadily throughout November, with active cases rising more than ten-fold, from 36 on Nov. 1 to 506 on Nov. 30, and total cases rising from 794 on Nov. 1 to 1,902 on Nov. 30. 

According to the Oswego County Health Department, 2,023 people in the county have tested positive for the virus since testing began in March, and about 1/4 of those cases are currently considered active by county health officials. More than 1,100 cases were recorded in the month of November, a drastic increase from the previous monthly high of 340 in September. 

Oswego County Public Health Director Jiancheng Huang said the situation is likely to decline further before improving, pointing out the November cases were largely spurred by Halloween-related activities and a similar spike is anticipated from Thanksgiving gatherings.

"November 7 to the end, we've called it post-Halloween cases," Huang said of the more than 1,000-case increase in the final three weeks of November. "And at the end of November we had Thanksgiving... so we need to be prepared for post-Thanksgiving."

The post-Halloween cases have not yet started to slow, Huang said, with the county setting daily records for new cases several times in late November. Huang said new cases arising from Thanksgiving-related travel and activities won't start to fully develop for another week to 10 days.

"Still we're seeing more cases come in yesterday and today," Huang said Monday, noting over the past four days the county has seen more than 240 new cases — the most so far in a four-day span. "I would say our situation probably will get worse and then get better."

Oswego County Legislature Chairman James Weatherup, R-Central Square, said the county has been preparing for the current surge in cases for months, but the virus is still "having a staggering effect" on the local public health system.

"Unfortunately, as the number of cases increases, the reality is we will see increased hospitalizations and an increased number of deaths attributed to COVID," Weatherup said. "All of us need to work together to keep this pandemic from becoming dramatically worse." 

Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow noted Monday the community is "quickly heading toward" a yellow zone designation, which would place further coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses and activities, if the area's data doesn't start to trend back in the right direction soon.

"People need to get serious and change their behavior," the mayor said. "We did so well earlier in the year and kept our caseload light, and we need to replicate that behavior and success now."

Barlow said the same individuals throwing caution to the wind and not following guidelines are passionately against another shutdown, but at this point the choice is one or the other. If people don't follow the guidelines, the community is almost certain to enter the state's yellow cautionary zone, which caps non-residential gatherings at 25 people among other restrictions, or the more restrictive orange and red zone designations.

The state's micro-cluster focus zone model considers Oswego County and its localities a tier 3 geographical area based on a population of more than 50,000 and less than 150,000. Under the micro-cluster model adopted by the state in October, Oswego County localities would fall into a yellow zone with a seven-day rolling average positivity rate above 3.5 percent for 10 consecutive days, and 15 or more new daily cases per 100,000 residents on a seven-day average.

All signs point to Oswego County as a whole being well on its way to meeting these requirements, with a seven-day average positivity rate of more than 5 percent that is trending upward to more than 10 percent in recent days. Over the past seven days, 399 residents tested positive, which calculates to roughly 48 new daily cases per 100,000 residents over that timeframe.

"If people want to protect their health and the health of others, and support our economy, they need to buckle down and do the right thing now and through the holiday season," Barlow said. "We can't have our economy close, we can't have our health care system overwhelmed and we need to look out for each other. If we do it right, we can work our way out of this bad position and get our data moving in a favorable direction again."

One of the biggest issues causing the spike in cases is people not complying with the recommendations and guidelines set forth by local, state and federal health officials, according to Huang. People are still attending parties and certain businesses aren't encouraging staff and customers to use facemasks, he said, and those situations make public health officials' work "very difficult" and cause preventative measures taken by others to be less effective.

Over the past month, individuals who are testing positive for the virus have also had a larger number of close contacts, according to health officials, causing each positive case to spread further than in previous months.

"In the past we didn't have the same amount of second- or third-generation cases," Huang said, noting a single infected individual can spread the virus to others at social gatherings, places of employment and within their own household. "People are tending to gather more inside, and at cold temperatures we know this kind of virus can more easily survive and survive longer. With all these factors put together, it's not a surprise we're seeing more and more people getting the virus spread further to more people than previous months."

County Health Department staff is working hard each day to identify and isolate cases, Huang said, but noted it's not possible to slow the spread of the virus in the community without help from individuals taking the necessary preventative measures. Local officials have also urged individuals in recent days to comply with mandatory isolation or quarantine orders to further reduce the spread of the virus.

“Our community continues to experience a rapid increase in positive cases,” Huang said. “If we are to avoid a general lockdown, we need everyone to do their part to help stop the spread of COVID-19. A very important part of that is for positive patients and their close contacts to follow the isolation and quarantine requirements.”

Though COVID-19 death rates have fallen since earlier this year, largely due to younger individuals contracting the virus and valuable experience gained in treating the disease, Huang cautioned individuals not to take the virus lightly.

"Some young people are in ICUs and some young people are on machine-supported breathing, so still this is a very dangerous, deadly virus," Huang said.

Oswego County residents until this fall had largely avoided the full weight of the global pandemic, but the recent upward trend in cases is now following a state and national trend. Statewide, roughly 650,000 individuals have tested positive for the coronavirus since the pandemic started in March, with cases surpassing 5,000 per day in November and more than 6,500 per day over the past week — numbers not seen since April.

Nationally, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 has surpassed 13 million, with more than 4 million occurring in the month of November.

Oswego County COVID-19 case totals by month are as follows, with total cases at month's end appearing in parenthesis:

March —23 (23)

April — 41 (64)

May — 41 (105)

June — 98 (203)

July — 45 (248)

August — 60 (308)

September — 340 (648)

October — 146 (794)

November — 1,108 (1,902)

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