Nearly 500 Long Islanders currently hospitalized have tested positive for COVID-19, but more than half of them were admitted for reasons other than the virus, officials said on Wednesday.
Nassau Health Commissioner Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein and Dr. Gregson Pigott, his counterpart in Suffolk, told a Newsday Live panel that while COVID-19 cases have increased in recent months, hospitalizations have remained relatively low.
In total, about 490 Long Islanders have COVID-19 and were hospitalized on Tuesday, according to the most recent state data. However, fewer than half of those, a total of 231, were admitted due to having the virus or its complications. The rest tested positive for the virus while they were hospitalized for other reasons.
The low hospitalization rates, Eisenstein said, reflect the latest mutated virus strain — which for many people produces only cold-like symptoms — along with the region's high vaccination rates.
"Considering how many thousands of cases there are, our hospital numbers have ticked up but by no means dramatically, like we've seen in the past," he said. "So most people will do fine if they catch COVID now."
Long Island's seven-day positivity rate Tuesday was 10.64%, more than 2.5 percentage points higher than the statewide average of 8.03%, according to State Department of Health data. There were 938 new cases in Nassau and 896 in Suffolk on Tuesday, the data shows, numbers that are widely considered to be a significant undercount due to unreported at-home tests.
And while there were 18 deaths statewide Tuesday — including one each in Nassau and Suffolk — most people, Pigott said, are not getting severely ill.
"The more vaccinated and boosted you are, the less likely you are to get some kind of serious infection," he said. "If you get infected with COVID it's probably mild. You'll probably get over it within a few days if you're vaccinated and boosted."
More than 87% of Nassau's eligible population has been fully vaccinated, along with nearly 81% of Suffolk's, according to the CDC.
But just over 43% of eligible Nassau residents and under 47% of fully vaccinated Suffolk residents have received a booster shot, the CDC data shows. This has left many with fading protection against the virus.
And while face coverings are still required in select locations, including airports, trains and medical facilities, most mask mandates have ended and are unlikely to return, Pigott said.
"If you feel you're in a risk category; if you're a senior or immunocompromised you should wear a good, tightfitting mask," he said.
But Pigott added: "there's really not much of an appetite for mandates at this point."
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