OSWEGO — The number of deaths in Oswego County connected to COVID-19 has risen dramatically over the last two weeks, with more than one coronavirus-related death occurring on average each day.

State Department of Health (DOH) data updated Monday counted 29 deaths within Oswego County and 34 deaths of individuals who reside in Oswego County. The Oswego County Health Department reported a total of 34 deaths on Dec. 28, an increase of 15 deaths since the county more closely aligned its reporting with DOH on Dec. 15.

More than 29,500 New Yorkers have died as a result of COVID-19, according to the most recent DOH data.

Oswego County reported its first two coronavirus-related deaths on April 7, less than a month after the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the United States. According to county Health Department data, a total of 19 individuals in the county had died at least in part due to COVID-19 prior to Dec. 15 when the county aligned its reporting with DOH, and in the following 13 days 15 individuals died.

Oswego County Public Health Director Jiancheng Huang said the increase in deaths over the last several weeks is a result of the influx of cases locally over the past month.

Huang and other health officials have long warned that the rise in cases would eventually result in more hospitalizations and likely more deaths.

"Our deaths have increased too, too much," Huang said late last week, pointing to the more than five-fold increase in cases per week as the main culprit.

Huang called every death "an unfortunate development" in the county's efforts to fight COVID-19, and expressed condolences to the families and friends of each of the patients.

"It is a sad reminder that this virus is rampant in our county and we must all do our part to protect our families and communities," Huang said, urging residents to wear a face mask over their nose and mouth in public, frequently wash hands, practice social distancing and avoid non-essential gatherings. "For the safety of yourself and your loved ones, for your neighbors and community, for health care and front line workers everywhere, please follow the COVID-19 protocols."

Prior to Halloween, which health officials have marked as the start of the current surge in cases, Huang noted there were 37 cases in the seven-day period ending Oct. 28. Following Halloween, there were 108 cases in the seven-day period ending Nov. 8, and the numbers continued to rise.

"Nov. 15 we had 240 cases and Nov. 22 we had 261 cases," Huang said of the seven-day periods prior to those dates. "And Nov. 29 we have 397 cases."

The uptick in cases continued into December, with 416 new cases of COVID-19 in the seven-day period ending Dec. 6. Each subsequent week in December brought about 400 more cases.

"You can see this exponential increase of our cases," Huang said, adding more cases creates conditions that put vulnerable populations at increased risk. "That's why they were hit hard and we lost so many neighbors."

Huang noted COVID-19 isn't necessarily the sole or primary cause of each of the coronavirus-related deaths reported by the county. This is a change in the county's reporting, which previously only listed deaths in which COVID-19 played a primary role. Individual fatalities reported as COVID-19 related may have had underlying conditions that also contributed to their death.

The 34 deaths now reported are considered "COVID-19 associated" deaths, Huang said, with the virus potentially playing a secondary role in some of the fatalities. Huang said the majority of the deaths in Oswego County have been in vulnerable or elderly populations, but cautioned there are plenty of younger individuals who have been hospitalized or placed in intensive care units.

Slightly more than 90 percent of the coronavirus-related fatalities in New York have included at least one comorbidity, such as hypertension or diabetes, according to DOH.

Nearly 70 percent, or about 20,000, of the coronavirus-related deaths in New York have been individuals 70 years of age or older, according to DOH, but nearly 500 individuals across the state below the age of 40 have died as a result of the virus.

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