Covid-19 Update in NYC: Delta Variant and Unvaccinated Hospitalization

September 14, 2021

Photo courtesy of WebMD

2 major themes are starting to play out in New York City with regards to the pandemic. On the one hand, it appears as though the city has reached a plateau in Covid-19 cases but remains unclear on which direction cases will go from here. On the other hand, it has become abundantly clear that unvaccinated individuals are making up almost all hospitalizations in the city, at a rate 21 times more than those who are vaccinated. Here is a deeper look at both developing trends. 

Infection Crossroads 

The Delta variant, which spread rapidly across the city the past couple of months, is now finally starting to slow down. This has epidemiologists thinking that perhaps New York City’s third Covid-19 wave might soon be coming to an end. Technically speaking, both the rate of new cases and of hospitalizations are down from their peak this summer. In mid-August, 2,000 people a day were testing positive and over 100 people were being hospitalized daily. Over the last 3 weeks, however, new cases and other indicators have been slowly decreasing. According to Columbia University epidemiology professor Dr. Waraa El-Sadr, “We’ve peaked, I think, and now we’re coming down the slope. When you look across the board, everything seems like it is going in the right direction.” 

Others, however, think that another uptick is already on its way. This fear is largely due to the reopening of schools, which took place just today. New York City’s Health Commissioner, Dr. Dave Chokshi, for example, describes the current moment as a plateau but doesn’t hesitate to caution that given “the level of virus transmission — at some 1,500 cases per day — it remains at too high a level for us to be complacent about where we are.” 

There are other factors that may prevent this plateau from continuing. For one, the most common way to get Covid-19 is now from household infections. According to the city’s Test and Trace Corps, 60% of people who told contact tracers they knew how they had gotten Covid-19 said they got sick from a household member last week. Following household infection was a social gathering, reported by 8%, and traveling, reported by 20%. These 3 sources of infection were exactly the same at earlier stages of the pandemic, showing just how hard they are to combat. 

Another factor is the city’s unequal vaccination rate. While 5 million residents, or 60% of the city’s population, are fully vaccinated, large pockets of residents have yet to get vaccinated. This is especially true for Black New Yorkers, who have lower vaccination rates than any other group and have been hit hardest by the 3rd wave. 

Lastly, and perhaps most controversially, is the Key to NYC vaccination mandate itself. While the mandate will undoubtedly increase the vaccination rate, many experts have critiqued the mandate’s 1-dose requirement, as opposed to full vaccination. Given vaccinated individuals can still get infected, it appears as though the mandate isn’t effective enough to cement fewer hospitalizations on its own. 

Hospitalization Rates

This brings us to the hospitalization rate itself. While vaccinated New Yorkers only made up 4% of all infections so far this year, unvaccinated people were found to be 21x as likely to be infected or hospitalized. 

Of the 1.3 million infections recorded in New York between the start of January and September 5th, just over 58,000 involved breakthrough infections. Another revealing data point is that fully vaccinated residents only accounted for 4,585 hospitalizations, while unvaccinated residents accounted for 97,244. According to City University of New York epidemiology professor Dr. Denis Nash, “this is a robust analysis that really demonstrates how powerfully effective these vaccines are against hospitalization. It does seem to suggest that vaccine efficacy is pretty robust even far out after the vaccine campaign started. Conversely, the study highlights that if you’re not vaccinated, you’re at very high risk of being hospitalized with severe COVID.” 

One essential factor needed to accurately track the future of the city’s vaccination and hospitalization rates will be government transparency. While former Governor Cuomo remained tight-lipped about Covid-19 data, Governor Kathy Hochul has publicly promised to be more transparent with regards to pandemic data and has already revised the state’s death toll to prove it. 

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