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EDITORIAL: What’s next?

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AS FAR AS THE HEADLINES are concerned, Covid–19 gets old news treatment these days. Russia’s war on Ukraine deserves the attention it receives. And the rates have gone down in most of the U.S. Maybe what we need is news of a vaccine to slow the spread of Vladimir Putin.

Short of that unlikely occurrence, we’ll settle for the facts that the Covid-19 pandemic appears to be waning here. Masks are coming off. The state requirements were recently lifted and this week’s sudden return of warm air was a powerful temptation to unmask and relax even among those of us at higher risk.

Jack Mabb, the director of the Columbia County Department of Health, whose department is coordinating the local Covid-19 public health response, says the lower infection rate could mark a transition from a raging pandemic to an endemic illness—one that’s among us but does not dominate our lives—a treatable malady.

So how does that fit with what’s happening in China, where the NY Times reports this week that 24 million people are locked down to prevent the spread of Covid-19? The answer may be that 24 million is not a lot of people in terms of China’s population and the government may be able to stop it. In the meantime, we still have our own lingering problems right here in Columbia County.

Columbia County has 61,570 residents, according to the 2020 census and more than 80% of them have been vaccinated, Director Mabb said. As of Tuesday, March 15, there are seven people in Columbia Memorial Hospital for Covid-19; two Covid patients are in the intensive care unit.

Compare that to the ability of Columbia Memorial Hospital, which says it can manage 30 to 40 cases a day if a new more infectious variant of the virus appears or if the current vaccines do not maintain their ability to protect people from severe illness and death.

The health department is also offering vaccine booster shots to seniors from 65 years old and up for free at Columbia Greene Community College on state Route 23 in Greenport every Thursday from 3 – 5 p.m. You do not need an appointment. Together these steps indicate that the county has taken positive steps to prepare for the next “spike” in cases if there is one. And yet that leaves Mr. Mabb “disappointed.” The reason lies in the statistics.

It’s true that over 80% of eligible residents have been vaccinated, but the number drops to 67% when you count those people who are 65 and older and include the booster. Yet seniors are the people who will benefit the most from a booster.

Getting a booster means less chance you will pass the virus to others around you. With a booster, if you do get Covid-19 your symptoms will probably be less intense symptoms or you might avoid a hospital stay or survive an illness that still can kill people, a total of 141 of them county residents,at this point in the pandemic.

Mr. Mabb would know about this firsthand. He had Covid-19. He slept for days and still was unable to work for five weeks. He’s blunt about it: the virus, he said, “kicked my butt.” For the doubters, he added, “This is not the flu.”

Enjoy this spring weather. While you’re at it, if you haven’t had a Covid-19 booster and you’re over 65, go get one now. The life you save might be your own.

The web address for the county Department of Health is: https://www.columbiacountynyhealth.com/

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