OSWEGO — Just before Christmas, the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine reached Oswego County, and in the ensuing month and a half more than 8,000 residents have completed the two-dose vaccination regimen, with another roughly 6,500 individuals receiving the first dose.
According to the most recent data released by the New York State Department of Health (DOH), roughly 12 percent of the more than 117,000 Oswego County residents have started their COVID-19 vaccination schedule. The 14,551 individuals receiving at least one dose of the vaccine is a steep increase from the estimated 1,500 provided within the county a month ago.
“We’ve gradually increased our vaccinated population and we now have a little more than 10 percent of our population vaccinated,” Oswego County Public Health Director Jiancheng Huang said this week, noting the county has recently seen a “slight increase in vaccine supply.”
Across the broader central New York region, which includes Cayuga, Cortland, Madison, Onondaga and Oswego counties, 56,695 individuals have completed the two-dose vaccine series, while 115,000 people have received at least the first dose. Statewide, more than 1.1 million New Yorkers have been fully vaccinated, with another roughly 1.2 million receiving the first dose, according to DOH.
“New Yorkers have been doing their part to keep the infection rate down, and we’re continuing to do everything we can to get shots into arms as quickly and fairly as possible,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday. “It’s working. We’ve made it past the post-holiday surge and our numbers continue to go down every day.”
Cuomo said the main issue holding back vaccinations continues to be supply from the federal government but noted Washington leadership this week announced an increase in doses for the coming week, something the governor said would bring “us one step closer to winning this war” and becoming a COVID-free state.
The state has administered more than 3.5 million shots altogether, Cuomo said Friday, but residents must remain vigilant until every New Yorker has been inoculated.
The increase in vaccinations comes at a time when new cases of the coronavirus have stalled in recent weeks, with health officials declaring the end of the post-holiday surge that saw a rise in infections across the nation.
“We have two weeks, or probably more than two weeks, now with new case reductions,” Huang said this week, adding there are several factors contributing to the decrease, not the least of which is the conclusion of the post-holiday surge. “Coming out of the post-holiday season we’ve seen a big drop, and this is a big factor.”
More than 3,500 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Oswego County between Thanksgiving and mid-January, making up well over half of the total cases reported to date. The peak of the post-holiday surge saw more than 1,300 individuals, or more than 1 percent of the total Oswego County population, actively infected with the coronavirus in mid-January.
Over the past month, the number of active cases has fallen by more than 85 percent to about 160 active cases at the county’s latest reporting. County officials noted over the past two weeks, the daily count of new cases has remained at two dozen or less — a steep reduction from the mid-January peak that saw more than 100 new cases on certain days.
Oswego County Legislature Chairman James Weatherup called the downward trend “very encouraging,” and said it shows the community’s preventative measures are making a difference in fighting against the virus.
“Still, we’re not out of the woods yet,” Weatherup said. “We’re increasing COVID-19 testing, tracing close contacts and vaccinating eligible people as soon as we have vaccine available. We ask residents to continue to be patient and maintain safe behaviors.”
The number of individuals now vaccinated is playing a role in the decrease in cases, Huang said, noting “it’s a small” factor. Though the population has not reached herd immunity, Huang said the vaccinations are having a small impact on the declining number of new cases.
Though case numbers have fallen and vaccinations are on the rise, Huang said now is not the time to ease preventative measures, such as social distancing and covering your mouth and nose in public.
“We’re still seeing case clusters in some populations, organizations and families,” Huang said. “The virus is still with us.”
Huang also pointed to the various viral variants spreading across the globe, most of which are believed to be more infectious and more deadly than the earliest incarnations of the novel coronavirus that arrived early last year.
Viral mutations are not unexpected, and not unique to the coronavirus. Huang noted as more people are infected by COVID-19, the virus has more opportunities to make more mutations and continue evolving, leading to more variants.
“Human beings are in a race with the virus,” Huang said. “If human beings can race ahead of the virus and control it with vaccines, then the virus will die down. If human beings are slow and the virus keeps infecting people and replicates itself in human bodies and makes mutations that generate variants, this will prolong the time.”
Though vaccinations have picked up speed in recent weeks, Oswego County, New York state and the nation are far from reaching the roughly 60 to 80 percent vaccination threshold most experts believe is necessary for herd immunity. Complicating that objective currently is the fact vaccines have not yet been approved for use in children, and roughly 20 percent of the Oswego County population, and about 24 percent of the national population, is under the age of 18.
Approval of the vaccines for children is not expected until later this year, and is not likely to start any earlier than the upcoming summer.
Roughly 10 million New Yorkers are currently eligible to receive the vaccine, and state officials say despite the 20 percent increase in supply expected over the next three weeks the number of eligible individuals and state’s capacity to administer the vaccine far exceed the supply.
The state’s ‘Am I Eligible’ screening tool, which can be found at https://am-i-eligible.covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/, has been updated for individuals with comorbidities and underlying conditions, and state officials said starting next week, local health departments would receive vaccine allocations for those individuals. New Yorkers can use a doctor’s letter, medical information providing evidence of a comorbidity or a signed certification, but local health departments will ultimately determine which forms of proof are acceptable.
According to the county Health Department, there were 157 active cases of COVID-19 in Oswego County as of Friday afternoon. The total number of individuals who tested positive for the virus since the outbreak first reached the county last March stands at 6,174. So far, 89 individuals in Oswego County have died due to complications related to COVID-19.