Long Island is on a marked uptick of COVID-19 cases and indicators as the holiday season gets underway, medical experts said Thursday, while warning of the potential for another surge.
They also advised that people should get used to it: COVID-19 does not appear likely to ever go away, and it probably will become a permanent part of our lives, like the flu season.
“The virus is not going anywhere,” said Dr. Alan M. Bulbin, director of infectious disease at Catholic Health St. Francis Hospital & Heart Center in Roslyn.
“It probably will become more seasonal … probably just like flu season starts coming in October” and people think about getting their flu shot, he told Newsday on Thursday. “I believe every year will be, ‘Think about a COVID booster.’ “
COVID-19 indicators released Thursday showed Long Island and the state on a steady upward trend of more cases and deaths, and higher positivity levels.
Long Island registered more than 800 new daily cases Wednesday, and the state hit a nearly 3% seven-day average in positivity in testing for the virus.
Bulbin and other infectious disease experts said COVID-19 wasn’t going away largely because not enough people were vaccinated, which would allow Long Island and the rest of the country to achieve “herd immunity” in which the virus could be largely crushed.
Seeing increase in cases
Bulbin himself is getting worn down by the persistence of the virus, he said, and the continuing cases he sees. Yet many patients hospitalized in serious condition with COVID-19 didn’t think they needed the vaccination shots, he said.
“I’m just tired of trying to convince people, even some of my own patients,” he said.
“The problem is how to reach that 30, 40 percent … to get in line and do what’s right. I just don’t understand. It’s just a product of misinformation” about the vaccine on the internet and social media, he said. “It’s a sad, sad state that I confront now every day in my practice, in the hospital. It’s wearing us down, for sure.”
Long Island’s seven-day average for positivity in testing for the virus started dropping in mid-September after a summertime jump, but now is rising again.
After falling to nearly 2% recently, over the last few weeks it has started a steady rise. In the last three days alone, it has gone from 2.5% to 2.62% to 2.73% on Long Island.
Statewide, the figure has increased from 2.65% to 2.78% to 2.90%.
The region also continues to produce hundreds of new cases every day. That number on Wednesday was 329 in Nassau County and 476 in Suffolk, for a total of 805. New York City tallied 1,244 new cases.
A total of 39 people in the state died on Wednesday of causes linked to the virus, including four in Suffolk, according to state data.
Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of infectious diseases at Long Island Jewish Medical Center and North Shore University Hospital, agreed that the region appears to be heading into another surge, just like during the holiday season last year.
Many still unvaccinated
Back then, he and others noted, there was no COVID-19 vaccine. Now that there is one, the situation would be much better if more people got the shots, Farber said.
“It’s really concerning and disappointing, quite frankly,” he said. “We’re certainly not at all happy … about seeing rates going up right before these holidays.”
The main causes of the latest surge are the large number of people still unvaccinated, the colder weather pushing people indoors, and the failure of many people to wear masks in crowded, indoor places despite the presence of the highly contagious delta variant, Farber said.
Many vaccinated people also have not gotten their booster shots, so breakthrough cases are occurring, he added.
Sean Clouston, an associate professor of public health at Stony Brook University, said people should get used to COVID-19 being a part of their lives potentially for years to come.
“I think that we’re looking at something that is a much more permanent part of our lives,” he said. “It’s not going away.”
Farber said he did not think the latest uptick would become as bad as previous increases. “I don’t think we are going to fill up our hospitals,” he said.
But he still warned people to be careful, saying they should not invite anyone who is unvaccinated to their home for Thanksgiving or other holidays.
The pandemic, he said, “is not over.”
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