CVPH doctor expects COVID hospitalizations to decline | News

PLATTSBURGH – Dr Wouter Rietsema expects COVID-19 hospitalizations in the north of the country to peak and begin to decline over the next week or two, lagging the downward trajectory that the region is currently beginning to see in new positive cases.

New York State as a whole is seeing a decline in new hospitalizations, a statistic driven primarily by regions in the downstate whose pandemic trends tend to be 10 days to two weeks ahead of those in the North Country, he explained.

“If I look at the North Country, hospitalizations are still going up a bit, and that’s because hospitalizations are what we call a lagging indicator,” Rietsema said. “Anyone hospitalized today really represents the new infections that were happening two weeks ago.”

DESCENDING FROM PIC

The Rotary Club of Plattsburgh welcomed Rietsema – the vice president for population health and information services at the University of Vermont Health Network, Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital – as a guest speaker for the third time since the start of the pandemic during the group’s virtual Zoom lunch on Wednesday.

In his presentation, the infectious disease physician used graphical representations of COVID-related data generated by the state and the North Country COVID Vaccine Hub, of which he is the coordinator.

Data released by the state shows cases took off after Christmas, experiencing a massive statewide spike and rapidly declining from that spike, Rietsema said.

“Clinton County is just starting to come off the peak, in fact, if I…looked at the graph and had no knowledge of what was going on in the state, I might wonder, ‘Is are we really getting by or not?’ ” He continued.

“But we certainly had a very explosive spike in cases, and so I would expect that we would see the same fairly rapid exit from this omicron spike.”

IN NUMBERS

Since Tuesday, the Clinton County Health Department has reported 249 new cases of COVID-19, based on processed lab results.

Clinton County also recorded four COVID-related deaths during the same period, bringing the county’s death toll to 69.

Figures from the Essex County Health Department and Franklin County Public Health also include positive home antigen test results.

ECHD released 205 new cases during the two-day period, while FCPH shared 246. As of Thursday, there were 490 active cases in Franklin County.

The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe has not provided a COVID update since Tuesday.

WHAT MEANS SOFT

Rietsema said the omicron variant is known to be highly contagious, but he has not seen local case data supporting the idea that it is milder than its predecessors.

He noted that hospitalizations during the omicron surge did not increase to the same degree as cases, suggesting that an omicron infection is less likely to result in hospitalization.

“It’s really confusing how much of it is vaccination and how much of it is milder omicron,” Rietsema added, though he thinks New York state will get some data on this.

The doctor said he learned over time that his definition of mild illness and the general community definition were different. To him, mild means you’re not sick enough to be hospitalized.

“But make no mistake, you’re going to feel it,” he said, pointing to breakthrough cases among those vaccinated. “I know a lot of people who have felt pretty damn sick.”

Yet the doctor, who is vaccinated, did not “hibernate” during the omicron push. He said his risk of serious illness and hospitalization was very low and there were no high-risk people in his orbit.

“I’ll probably feel pretty lousy for three to seven days (if I get it) and then I’ll move on, and that’s generally I think where we’re going as a country, but it’s a personal decision that everyone takes.”

GET VACCINATED, BOOSTER

Data from the Regional Immunization Center shows that 60% of all North Country residents have completed their series of vaccines and 25% have been strengthened.

Clinton County’s numbers are higher, reaching 68% with a completed series and 30% of the population having received a booster shot.

Rietsema noted that a 100% rate is not currently achievable because children aged zero to four are not eligible for vaccination.

He recommended reminders for those who have not yet received theirs.

“All the protection we can get – and remember what we’ve learned, what omicron has taught us more than anything, is that the vaccine should protect us against serious disease, but it doesn’t protect as well against infection as it does for delta and some of the previous variants we’ve had.

Rietsema added that he and fellow HPC infectious disease physician Dr. Keith Collins said, based on their understanding of the immune system, that those who are infected should wait about four weeks before being strengthened.

“You want to treat your COVID infection as if it were a booster, then you augment it with a vaccine and that timeframe seems to be around four weeks,” Rietsema said.

RISK OF HOSPITALIZATION

The risk of COVID-related hospitalization remains much higher for those who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Although he hasn’t seen what those numbers look like specifically for omicron infections, Rietsema said he believes the unvaccinated are at least 10 times more likely to end up in hospital than those who were vaccinated.

He said he believed more COVID-positive patients currently hospitalized at CVPH were being vaccinated, which he attributed to how more people were being vaccinated than not, particularly the elderly. This age group tends to end up in hospital in general and has a very high vaccination rate.

But from an observational perspective, Rietsema found that the vast majority of people in the CVPH intensive care unit who are very sick with COVID are not vaccinated.

“So even vaccinated people who are hospitalized with COVID symptoms tend not to be as sick.”

Information on where to get vaccinated is listed on page A8.

Email Cara Chapman:

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Twitter: @PPR_carachapman

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