The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 on Long Island has more than doubled in the past month, reflecting a summerlong trend of a gradual but steady increase in cases across the region.
More hospitalizations — fueled in part by new subvariants — still pale compared to the worst days of the pandemic. Long Island’s total hospitalizations as of Friday were 157, compared to 447 a year ago and more than 4,000 in April 2020. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 on Long Island totaled 67 on July 14.
“I’m not panicking but I think we would be foolish if we are not watching these numbers closely, and certainly we’ve seen a lot of clusters of infections,” said Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of public health and epidemiology at Northwell Health.
He added: “I think all bets are off on the fall. I don’t think anything is going to happen dramatically until October or November.”
Northwell has seen the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 on Long Island jump from 46 to 106 since July 14.
The positivity rate at Northwell’s GoHealth urgent care systems has jumped to 25% among people getting tested, Farber said. Experts have cautioned that positivity rates overall are a huge undercount, because most test results aren’t reported to the government, and many people don’t test.
The new subvariants, EG. 5 and FL. 1.5.1, are part of the reason cases are increasing, experts said. Both are descendants of the omicron variant.
Other factors are also in play, infectious disease specialists said. The summer’s heat wave has driven many people indoors into air conditioning, where they are potentially exposed to increased numbers of people with COVID-19, said Dr. Susan Donelan, medical director of health care epidemiology at Stony Brook Medicine.
Many people have not gotten booster shots, or the ones they received were months ago, she said, leaving them more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus.
Donelan also said: “A significant majority of the population has really given up on anything related to masking or other types of mitigation.”
A new booster shot tailored to the latest variants is on the way, but won’t be here for several weeks, experts said.
“I’m disappointed that the newer updated booster is not available in time for people” as they head back to school or office jobs as the summer ends, Donelan said.
People could try to get the most recent booster, but Farber recommended they wait for the new one to come — hopefully by October at the latest.
Dr. Alan Bulbin, director of infectious disease at Catholic Health St. Francis Hospital & Heart Center in Roslyn, said the current increase in hospitalizations and cases is more akin to a “swell” than a “surge,” and is “certainly nothing overwhelming at this point.”
He said people should consider their own health situations in determining how best to approach the “swell.”
If you are elderly, immunocompromised, pregnant, or have other health considerations, “start to be a little more vigilant about crowded gatherings, about who you’re with, about mask wearing, about distancing, about meeting outside if you can,” he said.
For instance, Bulbin added, wearing a mask to the grocery store might be a good idea.
If the numbers of cases start to grow even more, Bulbin said, health care workers have far more experience now in dealing with COVID-19 than they did in 2020, so hopefully they can keep any spike under control.
Donelon said part of the lesson of the latest uptick is that COVID-19 is not going away any time soon.
“I think it’s going to be part of our living situation for the foreseeable future,” she said.
“As we once again see an increase in cases of COVID-19 in the State, I urge all New Yorkers to remember COVID is a treatable disease,” State Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald said. “COVID tests are easy to use as well as highly accurate. If you test positive, speak with a health care provider about treatment, which can prevent hospitalization and death.”