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Despite drop in COVID-19 cases on LI, pandemic far from over, experts say

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday announced that children

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday spoke about how the state is preparing to disseminate the COVID-19 vaccine to children ages 5 to 11 after an expected CDC approval. Credit: Gov. Kathy Hochul's office

A key COVID-19 indicator has dropped by half in the last several weeks on Long Island, but while this is good news, the pandemic is far from over, medical experts said Wednesday.

The seven-day average for positivity in testing for the coronavirus has fallen from over 4% to nearly 2% in Nassau and Suffolk counties, according to state data.

"I think it’s great news and I’m cautiously optimistic about that," said Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of infectious diseases at Long Island Jewish Medical Center and North Shore University Hospital.

But "every time I have said that in the past" that we have turned a corner, "I’ve been burned and it’s been at my own peril," he said. So we "can’t open the Champagne yet."

Dr. Alan Bulbin, director of infectious disease at St. Francis Hospital & Heart Center in Roslyn, said the decline was "quite encouraging," but he also worries that we have seen a trend before with the virus — surges, followed by a decline, followed by another surge.

He noted that Long Island and New York State experienced a surge last year right after Halloween.

"The trend will probably reverse itself, even though it is encouraging now," Bulbin said.

Still, he doesn’t think the numbers will be as high as last winter’s peak.

The seven-day average, along with new case numbers and deaths, hit lows in the spring, with the positivity average on Long Island dropping to 0.35% in late June.

But then the delta variant hit, and the numbers took off again, starting in mid-July. By mid-September, the average started a slow decline.

The average was 2.13% on Long Island and 2.11% statewide in the latest figures released by the state on Wednesday.

Medical experts attributed the drop to several factors, including a state mandate for certain groups such as health care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. New York City has mandated that public school teachers be vaccinated, along with city employees that include police and firefighters.

Many people also started wearing masks again as the numbers spiked, experts said. Others were required by the state to wear them, including people indoors in schools, and passengers and workers on the Long Island Rail Road, said Sean Clouston, an associate professor of public health at Stony Brook University.

Now, the experts are getting worried again as the holiday season arrives, starting with Halloween and going through Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and the Super Bowl.

They also are concerned because large numbers of people are still not fully vaccinated, and with colder weather coming, people will be inside more.

The decline in COVID-19 indicators "is good, and I don’t want to be pessimistic, but we’ve been with this virus too long to really trust it," Farber said.

Clouston added: "I would say we are not out of the weeds. This doesn’t look like it is going away. It just looks like it’s maybe not as bad."

Other positive developments that may help temper the next surge include booster shots that are now available for some people, and the pending approval of COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5 to 11, infectious disease doctors said. That is expected to come as early as next week.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said Wednesday that age group numbers 1.5 million children in New York State.

She also said she may have more steps in mind to increase vaccination levels in the state. While the governor hopes the vast majority of people will choose to get their young children inoculated, she said she was not ruling out making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for schoolchildren the same way they must be inoculated against the mumps, chickenpox, measles and other diseases.

"That is a possibility. It's on the table," Hochul said at a news conference in Manhattan on Wednesday.

The state and local regions are already preordering doses of the Pfizer vaccine in anticipation of federal approval of the shot for children ages 5 to 11 next week, she said.

Statewide 380,100 doses have been preordered, including 30,900 on Long Island, she said, noting that is just a "first wave."

In Nassau County, officials said Wednesday that 95% of adult residents had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine, and 87% were fully vaccinated.

"Our high vaccination rate is saving lives and helping spur a strong economic recovery," Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said.

State data released Wednesday showed COVID-19 remains a persistent threat.

Long Island registered 481 new daily cases, with 198 in Nassau and 283 in Suffolk. New York City registered 784 new cases.

Across New York State, 35 people died on Tuesday of causes linked to COVID-19, including one in Nassau and three in Suffolk.

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