A trauma room at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in...

A trauma room at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside Credit: Newsday / Jeffrey Basinger

Far fewer people are being admitted to Long Island hospitals with COVID-19 this month compared with last March, state data shows.

There were 22 people admitted with COVID-19 to Long Island hospitals on Saturday, compared with 108 on March 12, 2021.

The much smaller number of new admissions is occurring after an omicron-fueled spike earlier this winter led to the highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations since the spring of 2020. This winter's peak was 420 new COVID-19 patients on Jan. 7. Last year’s peak, on Jan. 5, was 244.

What to know

  • The number of people newly admitted to Long Island hospitals with COVID-19 this month is a fraction of the number of new patients this time last year: 265 as of Saturday compared with 1,215 through March 12, 2021.
  • Experts say the fast spread of the omicron variant earlier this winter, along with high vaccination levels, are why the fall in new hospitalizations has been so much sharper this winter than last.
  • Earlier this winter, there were many more people with COVID-19 in Long Island hospitals than during the same period last year. This winter's peak was 420 new patients on Jan. 7. Last winter's peak was 244 patients on Jan. 5.

Experts say the fast spread of the highly infectious omicron variant earlier this winter, combined with protection against serious illness from vaccines that were not widely available early last winter, explain why the fall in hospitalizations has been so much sharper than the decline during the same time last year.

Omicron infected "a tremendous number of people" very quickly in the past few months, said Dr. Aaron Glatt, chairman of medicine and chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside.

The seven-day average of positive COVID-19 test results on Long Island neared 27% in early January but never surpassed 10% last winter.

With so many people recently infected, and the large majority of Long Islanders vaccinated, "it really boosted herd immunity to a certain extent," Glatt said. "The number of people who are now potentially capable of getting omicron or another strain — there are just less of them."

That is reflected in Saturday’s seven-day positivity rate, which was 1.57%, compared with 4.35% on March 12, 2021, state Health Department data shows.

"The rate in our community outside the hospitals is very low, and that’s translating into fewer people with COVID in the hospitals," said Dr. David Hirschwerk, medical director of North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset and an infectious disease expert.

Many people with COVID-19 were admitted for some other medical condition and then tested positive for COVID-19 after entering the hospital, he said.

At Mount Sinai South Nassau, there was only one COVID-19 patient as of Sunday morning, Glatt said.

In hospitals across Long Island, there were 140 people with COVID-19 on Saturday. Last year, it took until May 30 for hospitalizations to fall that low from the January peak.

Hirschwerk predicted that the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations likely will remain relatively low for at least the near future. The biggest factors in whether rates will rise are waning immunity — it’s still unclear how long immunity from prior infection and from the vaccines will last — and the potential for a dangerous new variant, he said.

"If there is not a new significant variant, then I don’t think we will experience a significant or impactful rise in cases [and hospitalizations] in the near future," Hirschwerk said.

As of Saturday, there have been 265 new COVID-19 hospitalizations this month, compared with 1,215 during the first 12 days of March 2021, state data shows.

Hospitalization rates in the late fall and first few days of winter of 2021 were lower than during the same period of 2020, state data shows. After the omicron variant became dominant in mid- and late December, the hospitalization rate skyrocketed, staying much higher through late December and most of January compared with the year before.

But by the end of January, the rate of new hospitalizations had fallen below where the rate was at the same time last year.

One reason the decline in hospitalizations was gradual in the winter of 2020-21 is that few people had been vaccinated in early winter, said Sean Clouston, an associate professor of public health at Stony Brook University.

As more people were vaccinated, hospitalizations went down, he said.

Glatt said the widespread availability of home COVID-19 tests is helping keep positivity and hospitalization rates low this year.

"I know four people in the past week who got infected and they’re all isolating at home," he said. "I don’t think they would have necessarily all been tested in the past and isolated so quickly at home. So it's not going to spread as quickly."

Although Long Island’s seven-day positivity rate has remained far lower than a few weeks ago, it has plateaued, hovering between 1.52% and 1.57% for the past six days, and rising between Friday and Saturday from 1.53% to 1.57%. Despite some incremental changes, Hirschwerk said, "I am optimistic rates will remain low."

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