BATAVIA — COVID-19 positivity rates in Genesee and Orleans counties are going down from where they were last month, but unfortunately, right now, the Finger Lakes happens to be the highest in the state, as far as the region.
That was part of Public Health Director Paul Pettit’s update to the media Tuesday via Zoom.
“I guess it’s the old adage, ’Everybody gets a turn in the barrel,’ ” he said. “Month by month, when we do these press briefings, the western region is up, and the Finger Lakes, and then maybe the Hudson Valley. At the moment, the Finger Lakes are on top and our rates are not … significantly higher than some of the other areas, but they are putting us on top, again, of the different regions in the state.”
Genesee County’s rolling seven-day positivity rate was 1.5 percent, the public health director said Tuesday, while Orleans County’s was 1.8 percent. The Finger Lakes’ rolling seven-day rate was 2.7 percent. The New York state seven-day rolling average is 1.1 percent.
“I think it’s a good sign. That’s a positive, that they’re (the Genesee and Orleans rates) going in the right direction,” he said. “The other thing to keep in mind, when you look at a positivity rate, it’s a tool that we use to identify what’s going on in the community, but testing numbers in general are down, and what we’re seeing is that more people who are seeking out testing, currently, are symptomatic. They may have a cough or they’re not feeling well or (have) headaches, so when you tend to test more people with symptoms and there’s a smaller number, your percentages may be higher. You’re going to have more positives per the number tested.
“It is an indicator, but being under 2 percent in both Genesee and Orleans County, being under the Finger Lakes average, still slightly above the state averages at the moment, we are headed in the right direction,” he said.
Pettit said the number will vary day by day, with the number of people being tested.
“When we had a lot of asymptomatic testing, that’s going to potentially lower that number down a little bit more,” he said. “When you’re testing more symptomatic people, there’s a chance that it’s going to be higher, but that doesn’t really translate into a lot higher community spread. It is something we look at and monitor, but there’s a lot that really goes into trying to get an idea of what’s going on in the community.”
Locally, Pettit said, the data is showing that younger age groups are driving a lot of the cases.
“This is to be expected. With the focus of vaccines really targeting our most at-risk for severity — our elders and our seniors, those with immune and underlying health conditions — those are the people we protected first. Most recently, it opened up to all age groups, down to whatever the vaccine levels are able to vaccinate, per the emergency use authorization,” he said. “Our younger groups are getting the vaccine that’s available to them now, but the numbers are not as high as some of the other groups.”
Based on contact tracing, Pettit said, the health departments can show that COVID-19 transmission is not happening in schools.
“With the (social distancing) reduction down to 3 feet in some cases, primary and elementary schools, the schools have continued to do a great job and the spread is really not being shown to be occurring in those settings.
As of today, the state is adopting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) new health recommendations for fully vaccinated people for most business and public settings. With the CDC saying that fully vaccinated individuals do not need to wear masks and over 52 percent of New Yorkers over the age of 18 are fully vaccinated, the state will authorize businesses to continue to require masks for all in their establishments, consistent with the CDC guidance. In most settings, vaccinated individuals will not be required to wear a mask, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said. Unvaccinated individuals, under both CDC and state guidance must wear masks in all public settings.
Pettit was asked if he had any concern that, with mask mandates being relaxed, unvaccinated people will use the situation as an excuse not to socially distance or wear masks, and what kind of a health threat might that create in the community?
“I think anytime you go through this transition, there’s always a potentially increased risk. I think the CDC has looked at the data,” he said. “We’re looking at now, 50 percent or more of our population is protected and has been vaccinated. When you look at severity, you look at those that are higher-risk and highest-risk of COVID and having complications and ending up in the hospital, unfortunately passing. Those are the ones we’ve always been the most concerned about and those are the ones we have very high vaccination rates right now.”
Pettit said some of the local towns are at 100 percent — or the towns’ ZIP codes are at 100 percent of people ages 65 or 75 and older that are vaccinated.
“Those groups have really taken the vaccine. They’ve protected themselves, which … when we talk about the spread of the virus and trying to protect those at greatest risk, that’s where a lot of our attention has been and continues to be,” he said. “As far as the masking … you’ve got social responsibility. Really, when it comes down to this, the guidance is there.”