Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of public health and epidemiology at...

Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of public health and epidemiology at Northwell Health, says of COVID-19 infections, "Whatever risk there was two weeks ago, it's significantly lower now." Credit: Danielle Silverman

The continuing decline in COVID-19 cases means it’s much less risky to go into indoor public spaces than just a few weeks ago, although, with numbers still relatively high, not as low-risk as over the summer, experts say.

"We’re going in the right direction, and whatever risk there was two weeks ago, it’s significantly lower now, and I think it will be significantly lower in two weeks," said Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of public health and epidemiology at Northwell Health.

What to know

  • Long Island’s seven-day positivity rate continued to decline on Friday, falling to 13.19%, less than half of the nearly 27% on Jan. 5, the omicron-era peak
  • There were 2,723 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Long Island on Friday, compared with the Dec. 31 omicron-wave peak of 14,519
  • Experts say it is less risky to be in indoor public spaces than a few weeks ago, but it’s still not as low-risk as last summer, when positivity rates often were below 1%

Long Island’s seven-day rate of people testing positive for the coronavirus declined again Friday, to 13.19%, according to state Department of Health data released Saturday. That’s less than half the rate than on Jan. 5, when it stood at nearly 27%.

There were 2,723 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Friday, compared with the Dec. 31 omicron-wave peak of 14,519.

A brighter forecast

Farber predicted that rates would continue to decline.

"I obviously can’t predict how low and when we will bottom out," he said. "But I think for the first time in a long time things look really good. Things will continue to improve significantly. I think we have a lot to look forward to in the next month."

But Sean Clouston, as associate professor of public health at Stony Brook University, said as people feel safer because of the declining caseloads, return to doing activities they have may have forgone temporarily and stop wearing masks, "We might see those numbers stop declining."

Statewide, Friday was the second day in a row that the one-day positivity rate dipped below 10% since Dec. 20. It was 9.23%.

"Two months ago, we would have said, ‘10%, sound the alarms,’ " Gov. Kathy Hochul said at a transportation-related event in Buffalo. "We had 23% statewide a few weeks ago. This is extraordinary progress."

Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Gov. Kathy Hochul. Credit: Barry Sloan

Farber echoed the governor’s point: Rates are still much higher than throughout most of 2021.

"They’re nothing like they were over the summer, when positivity rates were less than 1%," he said. "We’re now happy they’re 9%."

With rates still high, "I certainly do not recommend going to a crowded bar with unmasked people," he said.

Places where people are spaced out more, where patrons are wearing masks and where ventilation is good are less risky, he said.

DAILY POSITIVITY RATE

Nassau: 9.6%

Suffolk: 11.2%

Statewide: 9.23%

7-DAY POSITIVITY RATE

Nassau: 12.5%

Suffolk: 14.0%

Statewide: 11.36%   

Source: New York State Department of Health

Farber said people need to weigh risks and benefits. "Clearly we can all say the calculus is significantly changing to it being less risky, whatever event it was," he said.

Clouston suggested still avoiding indoor activities, especially without a mask.

"If you’re going indoors and you’re trying to avoid COVID right now, I don’t think there is a safe indoors," he said. "Omicron is very infectious, it is airborne and you can get it from people who are pre-symptomatic."

He said people should stick to outdoor activities and wait to spend time maskless indoors until the weather is warmer and positivity rates decline further, and there's less chance of being near someone with COVID-19.

"Then it's not 1 in every 10 people" who is infected, he said. "It's 1 in every 50 people."

For those who don't want to wait until the spring or summer, the more time people delay returning to indoor activities, the safer it likely will be, Clouston said.

"The longer you can wait, the better you are," he said.

Unvaccinated people remain at far greater risk than vaccinated and, especially boosted, people, he said.

Farber said those with boosters "can feel fairly safe if they’re not immunosuppressed. It’s very unlikely they’re going to wind up in a hospital and die of this disease. In the worst-case scenario, they may get a flulike illness that resolves."

Data supports boosters

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data released Thursday and Friday showed that people with booster shots are 4.9 times less likely to get infected with the coronavirus than unvaccinated people.

Unvaccinated adults are 90% more likely to be hospitalized than boosted adults, and unvaccinated people 65 and older are 49 times more likely to end up in a hospital with COVID-19 than seniors who have received booster shots, the new data shows.

Hospitalizations continued to decline Friday. On Long Island, there were 1,754 people hospitalized with COVID-19, compared with 1,832 on Thursday and 2,254 on Jan. 11.

Case and hospitalization numbers are not reflected until later in deaths, which Friday were above 150 for the 12th straight day. On Friday, 179 New Yorkers died of COVID-19, including 10 Suffolk and nine Nassau residents.

Farber said "one silver lining of this omicron outbreak" is that because many people got infected, there are more people with "baseline immunity," either from infection, vaccination or both.

Even so, "reinfections will certainly occur," and for anyone still unvaccinated who was infected during the omicron surge, vaccination "dramatically increases the risk they won’t become reinfected and that they’ll have better immunity against future variants."

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What to know

Long Island’s seven-day positivity rate continued to decline on Friday, falling to 13.19%, less than half of the nearly 27% on Jan. 5, the omicron-era peak.

There were 2,723 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Long Island on Friday, compared with the Dec. 31 omicron-wave peak of 14,519.

Experts say it is less risky to be in indoor public spaces than a few weeks ago, but it’s still not as low-risk as last summer, when positivity rates often were below 1%.

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