Hospitals Brace for Two Unwelcome Visitors

COVID-19 cases climb as the flu re-emerges

Two years ago it was a record-high flu season. Last year it was COVID-19. 

This winter, hospitals are facing a resurgence of both. 

Fueled by the Delta variant of the coronavirus, cases, hospitalizations and deaths have been surging over the last four months in Dutchess and Putnam counties, and statewide. 

Despite concerns about the newly identified Omicron variant, Delta is still the dominant strain, accounting for 99 percent of infections for the two-week period ending Dec. 4. 

The coronavirus has company this winter. 

Nearly absent last winter because of mask-wearing, flu cases are rising again amid loosened pandemic restrictions and the jettisoning of face coverings by vaccinated residents. 

cover / flu chartThe state Department of Health reported 3,698 flu cases through Nov. 27, a tally that will soon eclipse the 4,900 cases from last year with five months left in the season. During the 2019-20 flu season, New York recorded 158,000 cases, a record for the state. 

Putnam County’s Health Department posted an alert on Thursday (Dec. 9) urging people to get a flu shot. Flu cases had increased to 60 for the week ending Dec. 4 from eight during the week ending Nov. 13, driven by infections among residents in their late teens to early 20s, the county said.

“This could be a challenging winter,” said Dr. William Begg, vice president of medical affairs for Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie, which, along with Putnam Hospital Center in Carmel and Northern Dutchess Hospital in Rhinebeck, belongs to the Nuvance Health system. 

“The last two years, it was one or the other,” he said of COVID-19 and the flu. “This year it’s potentially going to be both.” 

Hospitals have already seen their beds filling again with COVID-19 patients, starting in August, when Delta-fueled infections began increasing. 

Vassar Brothers was treating 29 patients, including four on ventilators, on Tuesday (Dec. 7), nearly four times the number from a month earlier and nearly six times the five people hospitalized on the last day of July. Eleven patients had died at the hospital over the previous month. 

Another eight COVID-19 patients were hospitalized at NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital in Cortlandt Manor on Tuesday, 25 at Montefiore St. Luke’s Hospital in Newburgh and seven at Putnam Hospital Center in Carmel. 

While a small percentage of “breakthrough” infections have hit vaccinated residents, most of the cases in New York state reflect infections in people who are unvaccinated, as do most of the hospitalizations. 

“As far as the sickest people, without a doubt it’s those patients who have never received vaccination,” said Begg. 

Thirty-two upstate hospitals across the state were required, starting Thursday (Dec. 9), to limit non-essential procedures under a “surge-and-flex” plan to preserve capacity for COVID-19 patients. Under state Department of Health criteria, the hospitals must limit procedures if 90 percent or more of their acute-care beds are full and they are in a region with a similar shortage. 

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