All but four of New York state’s 62 counties are now considered high- or medium-risk for COVID spread according to the CDC’s Monday data update — and one of the few still considered low risk by the federal agency may surprise some.
The Bronx, the New York City borough with the second-lowest full vaccination rate of the five next to Brooklyn (74% vs. 72%, respectively, according to NYC data), is one of just four Empire State counties designated with the CDC’s lowest threat level.
Long among the New York City boroughs with the highest COVID death, hospitalization and case rates, the Bronx — the 10th worst U.S. county for COVID deaths and the 20th worst for cases since the start of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins data — currently has the lowest rolling infection rate in the city.
The data shows it’s not even close. The Bronx has a rolling new case rate per 100,000 residents of 140.18. It’s the only one of the five boroughs where that stat is currently below 200, with Manhattan (328.48), Queens (257.25), Staten Island (251.19) and Brooklyn (228.88) driving up the city’s rolling average (242.2).
It’s not clear why the Bronx appears to have thus far defied the transmission trend now oversweeping the rest of the city. Full vaccination rates for those of eligible age pale in comparison to the other boroughs, city data shows (Bronx, 74%; Manhattan, 83%; Queens, 85%; Brooklyn 72%; citywide average 78%).
Whatever the reason for the Bronx’s lower-than-average COVID rates right now (Mott Haven has the highest rolling test rate in the city right now, so it’s not less testing), the state’s Chautauqua, Allegany and Orange counties are the only others in the same boat. Of course, it’s possible those four could soon join the others.
The CDC lists 79 U.S. counties as being high-risk for COVID in its latest report, up from 56 last week (when more than half of them were in New York) and from 40 the week prior to that. Thirty-six of those 79 high-risk counties nationwide are in New York — and another four are in Connecticut. New Jersey has none at this point.
The vast majority of the CDC-designated high-risk counties are on the East Coast.
The latest developments come as COVID positivity rates top 20% in Queens Long Island City, another bastion of lower-than-surrounding-average viral rates earlier in the pandemic, and certain Manhattan neighborhoods fuel jumps in transmission.
The viral uptick has hardly been limited to the city, though. The state reported 10,000 new daily cases one day last week for the first time since January. And though COVID hospitalizations have remained manageable, those are rising, too.
They topped 2,000 last Tuesday for the first time since late February, rising nearly three-fold in just a month as highly contagious omicron subvariants tighten their infectious grip on New York state. They’re up to 2,164 as of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s most recent report, marking a 118% month-over-month increase, data shows.
That total is still mercifully well below the 12,600-plus peak from the omicron surge in January. Experts say they don’t anticipate that kind of pressure on hospitals now.
While no scientific evidence to date links BA.2.12.1 to more severe COVID-linked illness or reduced vaccine efficacy at this point, the heightened transmissibility linked to the highly contagious subvariants of omicron appears clear.
That’s cause for vigilance, officials say, and triggering renewed pleas for caution from those at all levels of government. Still, they say there’s no need to panic.
Gov. Kathy Hochul recently sought to underscore that point as she recovers from her own bout with COVID-19, despite being fully vaccinated and double boosted.
“By using the tools at our disposal, we can protect ourselves from COVID-19 and keep both ourselves and our loved ones healthy,” Hochul said in a statement tied to her most recent COVID update. “Make sure to keep up to date on vaccine doses, get the second booster as soon as you are eligible, and make sure your children are fully vaccinated. Remember to get tested before traveling or seeing vulnerable loved ones, and ask your doctor about treatments if you test positive.”