The daily positivity level in test results for COVID-19 surpassed 1% across New York State for the second day in a row, according to data released Monday.
It was the latest sign of how COVID-19 indicators have inched upward for several weeks, despite the state's growing vaccination rate and summer weather bringing more people outdoors.
It also underscored how the virus may remain present in the state and country for months or even years more, medical experts said.
The increasing COVID-19 numbers are due to more contagious and dangerous variants of the virus that are emerging, such as the delta, the end of mandates such as masking and social distancing, and people's eagerness to resume normal activities, the experts said.
Another major factor is that a large segment of the population remains unvaccinated, leaving them vulnerable to the virus, said Dr. David Hirschwerk, an infectious disease expert at Northwell Health.
He and others said they are concerned about the rising numbers, but do not expect a return to the worst days of the spring of 2020.
"I think it is reason for caution, but not panic or fear at this point," said Dr. Leonard Krilov, an infectious disease expert at NYU Langone Hospital-Long Island.
Statewide, 73.3% of New Yorkers aged 18 or older have received at least one COVID-19 vaccination shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When it comes to New York's total population, 61.1% has received at least one shot, CDC figures show.
Underlining how the virus continues to pose a threat, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday that public school students will continue to wear masks for the immediate future. The CDC has said masks should not be mandatory for fully vaccinated students.
The statewide daily average for positivity in results from Sunday was 1.10%, up from 1.02% the previous day, state data showed. Exactly two weeks earlier, tests on June 27 produced a positivity level of 0.52%.
Nassau County saw a daily positivity level of 1.12% on Sunday. Suffolk County registered 1.05%. Exactly two weeks earlier, Nassau sat at 0.47% and Suffolk registered 0.61%, according to state data.
The number of new confirmed cases in test results from Sunday was 42 in Nassau, 41 in Suffolk, and 350 in New York City.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said in a statement Monday that "we know that this virus has not disappeared, and as more contagious COVID-19 variants like delta emerge, the county is keeping a vigilant eye on the numbers and continues to encourage eligible residents who haven't gotten their shots yet to roll up their sleeves."
The county is continuing to work with community partners to get more people vaccinated, Curran said, and the County Legislature recently approved her plan for $10 million in additional funding for nonprofit contractors to address COVID-19.
Suffolk County officials did not respond to a request for comment.
State health officials said it was not surprising positivity numbers have risen.
"While the numbers are still some of the lowest since the pandemic began, as the overall rate of vaccination increases and the rate of testing decreases, it's not surprising that those individuals getting tested now are more likely to test positive," said Abigail Barker, a spokeswoman for the state health department.
"We are continuing to fight COVID-19 throughout the state by getting shots in arms and targeting ZIP codes where the vaccination rate remains lower than the statewide average. To achieve our goal, we are utilizing community-based pop-up sites, including areas with low vaccination rates, in-home vaccinations, creative vaccine incentive programs and a vast network of providers statewide."
Experts said Monday it is likely COVID-19 will not be wiped out any time soon, unless more people get vaccinated.
"Many of us feel that over time it will become somewhat endemic, more like the flu, where we will see cases but not the huge numbers," Krilov said. "There is a good chance that for a number of years, it will settle in at low numbers."
Hirschwerk said "it is less and less likely that we are going to get to the point of herd immunity," meaning COVID-19 likely will remain "for the foreseeable future months" and possibly "well into 2022."
Throughout New York State, one person died on Sunday of causes related to the virus, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said.
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