FDA authorizes bivalent vaccine as sole COVID shot
■ The Food and Drug Administration said on Tuesday that it is authorizing the use of the bivalent vaccines as the sole COVID shot going forward for children and adults and approved a second booster shot of the bivalent vaccine for adults 65 and older who have gone at least four months since their first one. The bivalent, a combination of the original vaccine and an updated one that specifically targets the Omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19, was originally authorized as a booster dose. The original Pfizer and Moderna vaccines approved as initial doses are no longer authorized, according to the FDA.
■ COVID-19 rose to become the third-leading cause of death in Dutchess and Putnam counties in 2020, behind heart disease and cancer, according to mortality data from the state Department of Health. In Dutchess, the virus killed 264 people that year, while heart disease was the cause of death for 765 people and cancer for 567. Putnam recorded 123 deaths from COVID, 214 for heart disease and 178 for cancer.
■ Nursing homes no longer need to require that visitors show proof of a negative COVID-19 test or undergo temperature checks and screening for their infection risk, according to new guidance issued by the state Department of Health on March 17. Nursing homes can still require a negative test or screen visitors if they choose, according to the state.
■ Masks will no longer be required in hospitals, nursing homes and other health care settings as of Feb. 12, the state Department of Health said on Feb. 10. The updated guidance aligns with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, according to DOH. Facilities can still implement their mask policies for staff and visitors that are more stringent than the CDC’s guidelines, said the state.
■ The 7-day average of cases per 100,000 in Dutchess County stood at 11.9 as of Feb. 9, continuing a steady decline after hitting a fall/winter peak of 26.1 on Sept. 21. The average for Putnam County peaked at 34.1 on Dec. 14 for the same period, but had fallen to 12.1 as of Thursday.
■ The level of spread in Putnam County is again categorized as “high” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends that people in counties with that status wear masks while inside public spaces, avoid indoor activities and receive updated booster shots.
■ The highly transmissible XBB.1.5 subvariant of the Omicron variant has quickly become, in New York state, the dominant strain of the virus that causes COVID-19. It accounted for 52 percent of infections in New York state for the two-week period ending on Dec. 31, according to state variant data. The strain made up just 2 percent of infections for the period ending Nov. 19.
■ As of Jan. 3, Putnam County had been upgraded to “medium” on the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions scale of COVID-19 spread. At that level, mask-wearing in public indoor spaces and on public transportation is no longer recommended, unless someone is at high risk for serious illness. The 7-day average of cases per 100,000 in Putnam stood at 26.6 on Tuesday, compared to 34.1 on Dec. 14.
By the Numbers
■ State health officials said that the seven-day average of positive tests as of June 1 was 1.4 percent in Putnam and 1.3 percent in Dutchess.
■ Statewide, at least 62,611 people had died as of June 1, including 149 residents of Putnam County and 751 from Dutchess.
■ Dutchess County COVID information page
■ Putnam County COVID information page
■ As of May 26, 72 percent of Dutchess residents had completed the primary vaccine series and 23.8 percent of those eligible for boosters were up to date, according to the COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker. In Beacon (12508), 68.4 percent had completed the primary series and 19.7 percent of those eligible were up to date.
■ As of May 26, 76.5 percent of Putnam residents had completed the primary vaccine series and 21.4 percent of those eligible for boosters were up to date. In Cold Spring and Philipstown (10516), 88.3 percent of residents had received a primary series and 31.6 percent were up to date, while in Garrison (10524), 82.9 percent had received a primary series and 24.9 percent were up to date.
■ The level of COVID-19 infections in Putnam County has been downgraded to “high” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At that level, the CDC recommends that people wear masks in public indoor spaces, including on public transportation. The agency also recommends that people test for COVID-19 if they have symptoms and take additional precautions if they are at risk for severe illness.
■ The 7-day average of COVID cases per 100,000 residents in Dutchess County rose to 24.5 on Dec. 8, compared to 14.7 on Nov. 24, according to data from the state Department of Health. Putnam County’s average was also higher, 27.7 on Dec. 8 versus 23.5 two weeks earlier. The state data does not include positive results from home tests.
■ Putnam Hospital Center reported 11 COVID patients on Dec. 8, the facility’s highest one-day census since Feb. 5. Five of the patients were admitted specifically because they were sick with COVID. The remaining patients were admitted for reasons other than COVID but tested positive for infection.
■The Food and Drug Administration authorized on Dec. 8 the dispensing of the bivalent COVID booster shot for children as young as 6 months old. Both Moderna and Pfizer updated their original vaccines to also target two subvariants of the Omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID. For more information, read the FDA’s announcement.
■ An advisory panel to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended on Oct. 20 that COVID-19 vaccines be added to the immunization schedule for children and adults next year. The recommendation by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is not a mandate, and states determine the vaccines required to attend school.
■ Putnam County is holding a clinic on Oct. 3 at which residents 12 and older who have gone at least two months since their last shot can receive a new vaccine booster made by Pfizer that targets Omicron subvariants of the virus that causes COVID-19. The clinic takes place from 3 to 6 p.m. at the county Health Department, 1 Geneva Road in Brewster. Registration is required and can be completed online here.
■ The state Department of Health launched on Sept. 21 a new website with information and resource for people experiencing “long COVID,” the name given to the presence of various symptoms after the initial infection is over. The site includes an overview of long COVID and its symptoms and links to resources for patients and doctors.
■Booster shots of new Pfizer and Moderna vaccines designed to target two Omicron subvariants, as well as the original strain of the virus that causes COVID-19, are now available to New York residents who are at least two months past their last shot, Gov. Kathy Hochul said on Sept. 7. The Pfizer boosters are authorized for people 12 and older and the Moderna shots for those 18 and older.
■ As of Sept. 7, masks are no longer required to be worn by passengers on Metro-North trains and other modes of public transportation in New York state, as well as for-hire vehicles, airports, correctional facilities and detention centers, and homeless shelters. Masks will still be required at adult care and health care facilities regulated by the state Department of Health, and in clinical settings regulated by the Office of Mental Health, Office of Addiction Services and Supports and the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities.
■ The Food and Drug Administration authorized booster shots of updated Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that have been reengineered to target the Omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19, along with the original strain of the virus. The authorization covers, for people 18 and older, a single shot at least two months after the last dose. More information is available at the FDA website.
■New York State released on Aug. 22 updated guidance for schools that eliminates a recommendation that students and staff quarantine if exposed to someone with COVID-19 and drops a “test-to-stay” policy that allowed school districts to use daily testing to keep exposed students in school. The new guidance, which follows relaxed guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also allows schools to do away with COVID-19 screening, except for high-risk activities or in response to outbreaks, and a recommendation that schools group students into pods or cohorts. Visit the state’s COVID guidance website for more information.
■ People exposed to someone with COVID-19 no longer need to quarantine but can instead wear a high-quality mask for 10 days and test themselves on Day 1, according to updated guidance for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC revised its recommendation for social distancing, saying individuals can decided for themselves based on their setting, and also rescinded its recommendation that asymptomatic people be screened in community settings. Visit the CDC website for more information.
■ Since July 1, the percentage of COVID-19 tests confirmed to be positive each day in Dutchess County averaged 13 percent, and in Putnam County, 10.8 percent, according to state data through Aug. 8. The statewide 7-day average positivity rate on Monday stood at 8.51 percent. The data does not include results from at-home tests unless they are reported to local health departments.
■ Eleven Dutchess County residents died of COVID-19 during the 23 days from July 16 and Aug. 8, matching the total deaths in the previous 40 days, from May 23 to July 15. As of Aug. 8, the state reported 682 total COVID-19 deaths among Dutchess residents and 128 in Putman County.
■ Although still dwarfed by first-time infections, the number of reinfections in Dutchess, Putnam and the five other counties that make up the state’s Mid-Hudson region began rising again in July after falling to 4.2 percent per 100,000 people from 7.3 percent between May 9 and the week beginning June 13. For the week beginning July 13, the rate was back up to 6.7 percent, with the 1,083 reinfections accounting for 18 percent of all new COVID-19 cases reported that week.
■ Gov. Kathy Hochul said on July 20 that the state is preparing a plan to respond to a potential new wave of COVID-19 cases in the fall. The plan will include strategies for protecting students as schools reopen. She also said that the state is soliciting bids from consultants, one of whom will be hired to assess New York’s pandemic response.
■ The state said on July 11 that is has launched a hotline — 888-TREAT-NY (888-873-2869) — that people who test positive and do not have a health care provider can use to find treatment options. Residents also can find more information about treatments at health.ny.gov.
■ Schools are no longer required to report positive tests among students, teachers and staff to the state. During the 2021-22 academic year, 387 Beacon students, 59 teachers and 52 staff members tested positive; Haldane reported that 272 students, 25 teachers and 35 staff tested positive; and Garrison said 68 students, 11 teachers and eight staff tested positive.
■ New York announced on June 30 that it has issued nearly 11 million Excelsior Passes, including the most recent version of the app, Excelsior Pass Plus, a digital copy of an individual’s vaccination or testing record. The pass is now recognized by 23 states, Puerto Rico and Canada. The state also offers the Excelsior Pass Scanner app for businesses. Visit epass.ny.gov to retrieve a free Excelsior Pass Plus. Parents and guardians can hold passes for children and teenagers.
■ The Food and Drug Administration authorized on June 17 the use of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines for children as young as 6 months old. Both vaccines had been limited to children 5 years old and up. The FDA’s announcement includes information on the effectiveness of the vaccines in children between 6 months and 5 years old and side effects.
■ Questions? Dutchess County posts updates at dutchessny.gov and has a hotline at 845-486-3555. Putnam County posts info at putnamcountyny.com. New York State has a hotline at 888-364-3065 and a webpage at coronavirus.health.ny.gov, which is also where you can find a testing site. The state also created an email list to provide updates. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posts updates at cdc.gov. Excelsior Pass is a free app that can be used to access proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test. See epass.ny.gov.
Will you please continue to keep us informed about the where, how and when of vaccinations? I’ve inquired of all the reliable sources. Many have not responded, and all others have said “We do not know,” “We have not been informed.” This is, of course, outrageous and destructive — so we rely on your expertise and reliability to keep track of it!
104 new cases in Philipstown for the week ending 12/31 is a very large jump. This is more new cases than any other town in the county, save Carmel, which has a far larger population base (of about 34,000 compared to about 10,000 for Philipstown). Any ideas as to why this large increase? In recent weeks Philipstown was seeing a more moderate (but still concerning) rate of about 30 new cases per week.
Are new measures and protocols needed? Or better enforcement and adherence to already existing measure and protocols? Is there more to this story?
You mention that people get vaccinated at a clinic held by Dutchess County on Friday (Jan. 15) and at a clinic held on Thursday (Jan. 14) at the Philipstown Recreation Center. Where did people register to get an appointment there? How did they know how they should register there to get an appointment in these centers?
As it happened it is by word-of-mouth that we learned how and where to register to get an appointment. Many people don’t have the word-of-mouth connection and therefore don’t know how to get an appointment. In fact, older people who are computer-illiterate or non-English speakers or those with no computer are kept out of the appointment loop. These are the people who need it the most. You must not only inform us of vaccination progress but more important of the channels by which people can get appointments. Every community center or library should have a volunteer who could help people register to get an appointment.
Both Dutchess and Putnam counties have started announcing vaccine availability on their websites, dutchessny.gov and putnamcountyny.com, and Facebook pages. Dutchess also set up on its website a notification system so people can register to receive emails about vaccine appointments.
The state is telling people to check its “Am I Eligible” site, am-i-eligible.covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov, for available appointments at state-run vaccination sites. The one closest to the Highlands is at the Westchester County Center in White Plains.
Drug World at Cold Spring is also approved to administer vaccines. You have to check their website, drugworld.com, or Facebook page for available slots. At this point, vaccine supply is limited and appointment slots fill quickly. Some local community health centers, like Cornerstone Family Healthcare in Newburgh and Sun River Health in Peekskill, are also doing vaccines, but you have to check their websites and Facebook pages for availability.
That is my point. If you don’t speak English or have a computer, how can you check availability? You need help. We need volunteers who can help just get a file number on Am I Eligible, than relentlessly navigate from site to site trying to find an appointment.
Also, couldn’t all the sites be accessible from one portal? As it is we must navigate six different sites in order to cover the appointment availability.
I would like to volunteer to try to organize the system but don t even know who to contact as it is decentralized. If you have ideas pass them on, please.
It’s unconscionable to allow unvaccinated school staff to continue working at Haldane School where they can readily infect unvaccinated school kids under the age of 12. Regular testing as a substitute for vaccinations is an empty gesture because spread of this deadly disease has already occurred by the time an infected person tests positive.
Re: New York mandating masks for children ages 2 and older and all staff and visitors at state-regulated day care centers. Getting a 25-month-old to wear a mask is no easy task. Yes, they can adapt, but it is an incredibly stressful task for parents and the child. There’s a balance in all of this and I don’t think moving the goalposts around is creating a net positive. A 2-year-old in day care has not been wearing a mask during the entire pandemic, almost his or her entire life at this point. What is accomplished with this arbitrary change? [via Facebook]
Requiring children at day cares to wear masks reduces the risk of them getting a viral load of COVID-19 that they could then spread around to others, including vulnerable family members. It’s not a perfect barrier, especially if they are sloppy with us-age (understandable in the very young), but it does significantly reduce the likelihood of infection and transmission.
It isn’t “arbitrary.” It is the result of infectious disease specialists honing their approach as they learn more about this new and evolving virus. Expect further changes as they learn more and as newer, more-contagious variants emerge.
The more people who wear masks (and 12 and up who get vaxed), the less likely new variants will emerge. I’m a parent and know that it might be tricky at times to ask them to wear a mask in public, but also have been impressed by how adaptable the young are to new situations. I wish I had such adaptability still. [via Facebook]
Superintendent Phil Benante said on Sept. 9 that the Haldane school district was in the process of implementing a COVID-19 testing process for unvaccinated faculty and staff. Why are there still faculty and staff unvaccinated? Don’t you think this should be a mandate for our small school like Haldane? Ridiculous.
On April 19, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its COVID-19 vaccine recommendations, expanding eligibility for a second bivalent vaccine dose for adults over age 65 and to all immunocompromised adults.
This second bivalent dose is being made available only to these two groups because they are more vulnerable to hospitalization and death. The spring dose will maximize protection because there is mounting evidence that the vaccine’s effectiveness begins to wane after 4 to 5 months.
The original vaccine is off the market and CDC recommends that everyone ages six months and older receive the bivalent vaccine, regardless of whether they were previously vaccinated.
The good news is that, in recent months, COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths have gone down substantially. However, community immunity levels are waning and new variants are emerging. For these reasons, it still makes sense for all of us to be protected. In Philipstown, more than 70 percent of the population has not yet received the bivalent vaccine, and in Beacon, it is greater than 80 percent.
The take-home message for Philipstown and Beacon residents is that anyone who has not yet had the bivalent vaccine that became available in September should get it. If you are over 65 or immune-compromised and already had your bivalent vaccine, you should strongly consider getting a second shot.
The bivalent vaccine is free until May 11 and then will be covered by most insurance plans. It’s also conveniently available at Drug World in Cold Spring and pharmacies in Beacon (see vaccine.gov). You can even schedule a home visit in Philipstown by calling 845-265-6352.
Let’s join together as two communities, get the bivalent vaccine and improve protection for all, especially those over 65.
This letter was also signed by Dr. Marianne Sutton and Heidi Snyder who, with Brownstein, represent Keeping Philipstown Healthy.