What to know
- Omicron subvariant BA.5 now accounts for an estimated 82% of COVID cases in the CDC’s New York region. It is more than four times more vaccine resistant than its predecessor and has been linked to an increased risk of reinfection and breakthrough cases and hospitalizations, state and national data show.
- The number of hospitalizations with COVID in New York state is at its highest since mid-February; NYC’s rate is up 70% in the past month, according to state data, though Long Island still tops the charts
- Experts say the increases are related to COVID variant BA.5; the number of cases is decreasing as hospital admissions increase, likely reflecting the dreaded lagging factor. But what comes next?
The number of COVID hospitalizations in New York has risen to a five-month high, fueled by an unprecedented New York City hospitalization rate since mid-February and a streak on Long Island that topped the state charts at least daily for the past month, according to Governor Kathy Hochul’s latest virus update. And these aren’t all mild cases either.
Statewide, the number of hospitalizations per 100,000 rose 50% between this time in June and now, with nearly 2,800 COVID patients admitted as of Wednesday. New York City’s numbers have increased 70% over the same period, while the number of COVID patients in intensive care units in the five boroughs has nearly doubled.
Long Island’s rate of increase is also significant (48.3% monthly increase), but significantly less than the others, given the relatively high sustained rate for nearly all of July.
Those same two regions also recently hit the highest rate of reinfection in half a year as the so-called “worst version” of omicron yet — one that has not only been shown to be more transmissible, but more than four times more vaccine-evasive. as the most vaccine-evasive predecessor — maintains its stranglehold on America.
COVID hospitalizations in New York hit the highest raw total since Feb. 18 a day ago, which, while some raise eyebrows, is tempered by the fact that fewer than 42% of those patients did not list COVID as one of the reasons for recording . In other words, the virus was discovered during routine testing and might not have been discovered otherwise.
While there is no evidence that BA.5 causes more serious illness from COVID than other strains, people who have never been vaccinated, and even fully vaccinated and boosted people last dosed in 2021, are seeing higher hospital admissions from COVID than in recent months . The breakthrough rate of hospitalizations in New York state has been rising every year for the past six weeks and now stands at 1.67 per 100,000. The rate is almost seven times higher for unvaccinated people.
Hospital admissions have risen in several states following a spate of COVID-19 infections as sub-variants of Omicron spread. And as Google’s search trends tell us, the interest in boosters is high right now. “It’s critical to get a boost now as we’re in the midst of that BA.5 wave,” said Dr. Harvard Medical School’s Aditi Nerurkar v LX News Now. dr. Nerurkar brings us depth and context on the most searched questions on this topic.
The last time hospitalization rates for both groups rose in such a way was the April-May wave, when BA.2.12.1, the most contagious variant before BA.5 (and its brother BA.4), the Empire State swamped at a faster clip than the nation.
Combined, those two variants account for at least 84% of all cases in New York City, city data shows, with BA.5 making up the majority (67%). Statewide health department data estimates the prevalence of the strains at about 76%, indicating a faster spread of those variants in the denser counties compared to those in less populated regions.
So what does all this mean, and how concerned should you be? Well, that depends. When was your last vaccination dose?
Only one therapeutic antibody maintains full potency against the BA.5 and BA.4 strains, Columbia researchers say, and a separate recent, non-peer-reviewed study found that a previous omicron infection was less than 80% effective was on stopping BA.5.
In addition, a recent Italian review of COVID studies found that boosters are less than 20% effective in preventing ommicron-related infections after six months.
So if you didn’t get a booster this year, or got a second booster and you qualify, experts say now is the time to get those doses. And if you haven’t received a starting dose yet, the message is better late than never.
White House COVID Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha took part in Hochul’s first live COVID briefing in months last week to underline the point about what he called an “incredibly immune-evasive” BA.5 variant.
“People who were infected three months ago saw high levels of reinfections. People who have been boosted for a while now and haven’t received a vaccine for a while are now seeing a lot of breakthrough infections,” Jha said.
Another round of ommicron-specific vaccines is expected this fall, and those receiving vaccine boosters now will still be eligible for those injections once approved. But that could take months. And while the number of cases linked to this sixth wave of pandemic is slowing, many are bracing for what could come.
Jha stressed that action is being taken now where possible.
“If you’re over 50 and if you didn’t get a COVID shot this year, you should go get one now. It provides a very high level of protection, keeps you out of the hospital and gets you through the summer.” , he said.
Learn more about COVID vaccination, boosting, treatments, and where to get free testing kits in New York City here.