New York State Department of health warns COVID-19, seasonal flu & respiratory syncytial virus cases are rising; hospital capacity limited in some regions
√ Governor encourages New Yorkers to get flu and COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters, and practice distancing, masking and hygiene during cold weather months
Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday announced steps the New York State Department of Health is taking to raise awareness of and protect New Yorkers against respiratory virus infections that are spreading this fall – and expected to continue through the winter. Health officials are urging the public to take steps geared toward stopping the spread of infectious disease as cases of seasonal influenza, coronavirus and respiratory syncytial virus are rising, with more New Yorkers staying indoors due to colder weather.
"We are not backing down in our fight against deadly respiratory illnesses – we have been preparing for the winter, and we are ready," Hochul said. "New York state is taking action to provide guidance to hospitals and local health departments to ensure that we keep New Yorkers safe and healthy. Our best shot at protecting ourselves and fellow New Yorkers from respiratory illnesses continues to be getting vaccinated, staying up to date on boosters, and practicing good hygiene."
Hochul received her seasonal flu shot and urged other New Yorkers to receive this year's flu vaccine to protect against infection. The flu vaccine is available to anyone 6 months or older, and strongly recommended for people with chronic diseases, young children, and individuals who are pregnant – all of whom have a higher risk of developing serious complications from influenza.
Earlier this fall, the New York State Department of Health issued a health advisory notice regarding respiratory illnesses to hospitals, local health departments, laboratories, emergency rooms, and providers in family medicine, primary care, pediatrics, adolescent medicine, infectious disease, neurology, and infection control practitioners. While not specific to any one virus, the notice highlighted increased hospitalizations from these types of illnesses and provides federal resources.
Hochul’s team said, “The best defense against respiratory viruses is to receive the seasonal flu and COVID vaccines, stay up to date on COVID-19 boosters (including the recently authorized COVID-19 bivalent booster for those eligible), practice social distancing, wear masks in crowded settings, and use proper hygiene, including frequent hand washing.
“DOH is monitoring regional hospital capacity, and engaging hospital and health care systems that may be seeing larger-than-normal patient volumes in their emergency departments and inpatient units. If you are sick and exhibiting symptoms of a respiratory virus, consult your primary care provider.”
NYSDOH Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said, "As the respiratory virus season begins, including COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the symptoms for all three illnesses may be indistinguishable, and for the vast majority of older children these illnesses are mild. While we await a RSV vaccine, we have two straightforward messages for parents and guardians: Make sure your child is up to date on their COVID-19 vaccination, and get a flu shot for children 6 months of age or older. Even if your child does get sick, the effects of immunizations have been shown to lessen illness severity. If you are concerned about your child, speak with a pediatrician or other health care professional. If your infant was born premature or otherwise fragile, you should seek medical advice early."
Hochul’s team provided the following details:
•Respiratory syncytial virus: Respiratory syncytial virus is a seasonal infection that poses a risk to infants under 6 months of age and immune-compromised individuals, with symptoms similar to the common cold, ranging from a persistent cough and wheezing to fever. While this common virus typically spreads during the fall and winter months, DOH officials are seeing RSV cases in New York earlier this year.
To increase awareness of RSV, DOH will provide an informational alert to health care and child care providers, along with incorporating educational and prevention messaging into conversations with both. DOH will also utilize social media to spread the word via a video message from Bassett, and is updating information on its website to include critical information about the transmission of this and other viral respiratory illnesses.
While there is no vaccine for RSV, testing and treatment for it is covered by insurance. New Yorkers experiencing coverage issues for RSV or any other medically necessary care may file a complaint with the New York State Department of Financial Services.
•Seasonal influenza: As with RSV, preliminary data indicates flu season is starting earlier than normal this year, which is why DOH is urging New Yorkers not to delay in getting their annual flu shot. The agency maintains a weekly tracker displaying flu cases across the state throughout flu surveillance season, which is October through May of the following calendar year.
Earlier this month, DOH launched its annual public education campaign, reminding adults and parents to get both flu and COVID-19 shots for themselves and children 6 months and older. Roughly 3 million influenza shots had been given as of Oct. 26.
•COVID-19: Simultaneously, New York state is bracing for an increase in COVID-19 infections, which have spiked during the fall and winter months for two consecutive years. Cases are moderated as of now – between about 10 and 25 per 100,000 people in every region – though hospital admissions have been growing and are now between approximately two and three per 100,000 in every region.
COVID-19 continues to disproportionately impact vulnerable populations, including older adults and immunocompromised individuals. Over the past eight weeks, 60% of COVID-19-related hospital admissions have been patients aged 65 or older.
In accordance with the fall action plan developed last summer, DOH has continued to take action to enhance the state's preparedness for a potential surge in infections this fall and winter. More than 2.6 million at-home COVID-19 tests were distributed to schools across the state, with the availability of another 30 million tests over the next year.
The agency is also working closely with providers and local health departments to encourage COVID-19 vaccination and bivalent boosters, which children 5 years and older may receive to protect against infection. In addition to getting the flu and COVID-19 vaccines, there are some practical ways to avoid contracting and spreading RSV, flu and COVID-19 viruses this fall and winter:
√ Wash your hands often with soap and hot water for least 20 seconds to protect yourself from germs, and avoid spreading them to others.
√ Carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol to use when soap and water are not available.
√ Do not cough or sneeze into your hands. Instead, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue.
√ Stay home if you are sick.
√ Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth if you are symptomatic.
DOH is continuing to conduct wastewater surveillance for COVID-19 transmission, which will enable health officials to detect potential surges throughout the state. Likewise, the agency will continue to coordinate with local health departments to set up additional pop-ups to deliver this important protection to communities where vaccination rates are low.