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New York's mask mandate will remain in place for now, as a judge issued a stay Tuesday afternoon of Monday's ruling that the mandate was unconstitutional.
Justice Robert J. Miller of the Appellate Division of New York State Supreme Court issued the stay hours after hearing oral arguments.
Attorney General Letitia James tweeted that the decision would keep the mandate in place while the appeals process continues.
"Protecting the health of New Yorkers during the #COVID19 pandemic is our top priority," she tweeted.
Gov. Kathy Hochul released a statement late Tuesday praising the decision; "I applaud the Appellate Division, Second Department for siding with common sense and granting an interim stay to keep the state's important masking regulations in place," she said.
On Monday, a judge in Nassau County ruled that Hochul's mask mandate cannot be enforced, in schools, businesses or elsewhere, because she did not have the authority to enact it.
"There can be no doubt that every person in this State wishes, wants, and prays that this era of COVID ends soon and they will surely do their part to see that is accomplished," New York State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Rademaker wrote in Monday's decision. "However, enacting any laws to this end is entrusted solely to the State Legislature."
James filed a Notice of Appeal late Monday.
State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa said in a statement Tuesday that she was pleased with the decision. Many school leaders had not known whether to enforce the mask mandate on Tuesday morning.
"Support Governor Hochul and the state Department of Health as they continue with the appeal," Rosa said. "We thank the members of our school communities for their patience during this process."
Speaking in Syracuse earlier Tuesday, Hochul said she disagreed with the initial decision that, as she put it, "the Department of Health did not have the authority to protect public health."
Hochul said that depending on how the case goes, she would consider working with the state Legislature to reimpose a mask mandate.
The mandate is in effect through Feb. 1. Hochul said Friday that she would wait until the end of January before deciding whether to extend it.
For now, she encouraged the continued wearing of masks inside schools, saying the mandate has helped keep New York's schools open this school year. She also noted that cases and hospitalizations involving children were higher during the Omicron wave.
"Omicron changed that dynamic," she said. "We realized children were becoming sick and being hospitalized."
Hochul repeated what she said last week, that the day is coming when New York will no longer have a mask mandate. "But I will not do it a day before we can do it safely," she said.
Hospitals see plateau in omicron cases; nursing home backup grows
Monroe County and the Finger Lakes have routinely lagged behind the rest of the state and nation in the ups and downs of the pandemic. True to form, hospital data seems to show the omicron wave has crested.
“We appear to have reached a plateau, with a fair amount of optimism that cases should begin declining in the coming weeks,” said Chip Partner, spokesman for UR Medicine, which includes Strong Memorial, Highland and F.F. Thompson hospitals.
The number of hospitalized COVID-positive patients dropped systemwide from 383 last Monday to 368 this week; 246 to 226 just at Strong, he said. Numbers do not include COVID patients who have recovered to the point they test negative but remain too sick to discharge.
Rochester Regional Health, which operates Rochester General and Unity, has seen numbers bumping around 300 or fewer in recent days.
Hospital occupancy remains elevated, Partner said. Another strain comes from a backup of patients ready to discharge to long-term care facilities like nursing homes, but for whom there are no beds to go to largely because of staffing shortages at those facilities.
UR Medicine had 152 such patients systemwide as of Monday, up from 121 a week ago, Partner said. Half of those are at Strong.
Hospitals, too are short-staffed, but a crush of illness (COVID or otherwise) that saw more than 1,000 employees out sick a few weeks ago, is down below 300 this week, Partner said. If numbers are, indeed, soon to recede, the omicron wave will have fallen short of last January’s peak that saw more than 400 COVID patients systemwide, Partner said. Hospital officials had feared numbers would go higher this time.
COVID cases in Rochester NY region
Monroe County reported 5,031 cases and 34 deaths in the latest week. A week earlier, it had reported 9,288 cases and 27 deaths. Throughout the pandemic it has reported 141,951 cases and 1,432 deaths.
Ontario County reported 901 cases and five deaths in the latest week. A week earlier, it had reported 1,292 cases and eight deaths. Throughout the pandemic it has reported 17,900 cases and 162 deaths.
Wayne County reported 841 cases and seven deaths in the latest week. A week earlier, it had reported 1,107 cases and six deaths. Throughout the pandemic it has reported 15,504 cases and 148 deaths.
Livingston County reported 513 cases and two deaths in the latest week. A week earlier, it had reported 786 cases and two deaths. Throughout the pandemic it has reported 10,627 cases and 100 deaths.
Orleans County reported 337 cases and one death in the latest week. A week earlier, it had reported 603 cases and one death. Throughout the pandemic it has reported 7,996 cases and 106 deaths.
Genesee County reported 603 cases and seven deaths in the latest week. A week earlier, it had reported 959 cases and three deaths. Throughout the pandemic it has reported 12,769 cases and 174 deaths.
Across New York, cases fell in 60 counties, with the best declines in Queens County, with 24,374 cases from 60,369 a week earlier; in Kings County, with 29,685 cases from 54,438; and in New York County, with 17,740 cases from 32,284.
New York ranked 7th among states in share of people receiving at least one shot, with 87% of its residents at least partially vaccinated. The national rate is 75.5%, a USA TODAY analysis of CDC data shows. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which are the most used in the United States, require two doses administered a few weeks apart.
In the week ending Sunday, New York reported administering another 581,185 vaccine doses, including 173,715 first doses. In the previous week, the state administered 523,202 vaccine doses, including 144,133 first doses. In all, New York reported it has administered 36,261,653 total doses.
Within New York, the worst weekly outbreaks on a per-person basis were in Bronx County with 1,526 cases per 100,000 per week; Onondaga County with 1,284; and Richmond County with 1,262. The Centers for Disease Control says high levels of community transmission begin at 100 cases per 100,000 per week.
Adding the most new cases overall were Kings County, with 29,685 cases; Queens County, with 24,374 cases; and Bronx County, with 21,635.
In New York, 1,601 people were reported dead of COVID-19 in the week ending Sunday. In the week before that, 1,201 people were reported dead.
A total of 4,701,632 people in New York have tested positive for the coronavirus since the pandemic began, and 63,413 people have died from the disease, Johns Hopkins University data shows. In the United States 70,700,678 people have tested positive and 866,540 people have died.
More NY kids ending up in hospitals due to COVID
Dr. Tina Sosa has recently spent a lot more time consoling heartbroken parents as their COVID-19 infected children lay in hospital beds, struggling to breath.
Most of these mothers and fathers were tormented by their decision to decline to vaccinate their children against the respiratory disease, said Sosa, a pediatric hospitalist at Golisano Children’s Hospital in Rochester.
But many of the parents were also far from anti-vaccine, but rather thoughtful guardians who agonized over the risks and rewards of COVID-19 vaccines — until it was too late, she said.
“These past two years of the pandemic have been incredibly challenging for parents for a variety of reasons, and one is the decision around this vaccine,” she added, noting the COVID-19 threat to children was comparatively much lower than adults for most of the pandemic.
The risk calculus, however, has rapidly evolved since early December as the highly contagious omicron variant sent record-high numbers of kids to hospitals.
“Parents are realizing that what we’re dealing with in this stage of the pandemic is different,” Sosa said, adding the rise in hospitalized children is also distressing pandemic-weary health care workers.
“We never want to see a child die from a vaccine-preventable disease,” she added, noting the COVID-19 vaccines have proven safe and effective at limiting severe illnesses for children ages 5 and above.
Meanwhile, vaccination rates among ages 5 to 11 have all but stalled in some counties in New York, which reported a 25% vaccination rate for the age group statewide on Friday.
For ages 12 to 17, the vaccination rate statewide stood at about 66%, though many counties lagged well behind that pace, excluding heavily vaccinated Westchester County and parts of New York City and Long Island.
Yet efforts to identify some barriers to vaccination — such as those linked to potential gaps in reaching Black and brown children — are hindered by the fact that state and federal officials have yet to release pediatric vaccination data by race and ethnicity.
USPS to begin shipping free COVID-19 tests
Free COVID-19 test kits for people who ordered them from COVIDtests.gov will begin shipping via the U.S. Postal Service this week, according to the government website.
Americans are supposed to be able to order four kits per address under a federal program that launched last week.
Tests are expected to be mailed within seven to 12 days from when they are ordered. Customers should receive email notifications with shipping updates, including estimated delivery date and a tracking number on USPS.com.
“All tests distributed as part of this program are FDA-authorized at-home rapid antigen tests," the website says.
The White House also announced last week that it will begin making 400 million N95 masks available for free at pharmacies and community health centers.
When will omicron infections peak?
The nation's top infectious disease expert is "as confident as you can be" that most states will have reached a peak of omicron COVID-19 cases by mid-February.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, speaking Sunday on ABC's "This Week," said several states in the Northeast and Upper Midwest have seen cases peak and begin to decline sharply but that cases are still rising in the South and West.
"You never want to be overconfident when you're dealing with this virus," Fauci said, adding that the coronavirus "surprised us in the past."
Fauci said there may be "a bit more pain and suffering with hospitalizations" in parts of the country where a higher percentage of people have not been fully vaccinated or have not received a booster shot.
Fauci said the goal is to get infections under control to where the virus isn't eliminated but the level is low enough that "it's essentially integrated into the general respiratory infections" that Americans have learned to live with.
How many people in Monroe County have received a COVID-19 vaccine?
75% of people in Monroe County have received at least one dose of the vaccine, for a total of 560,019 people
70% of people in Monroe County are fully vaccinated, for a total of 519,476 people
For a county-by-county look at the vaccination rollout, see our COVID-19 vaccine tracker, which is updated daily.
How many people in New York have been vaccinated so far?
86% of people in New York have received at least one dose of the vaccine, for a total of 16,807,366 people
73% of people in New York are fully vaccinated, for a total of 14,229,580 people
COVID vaccinations for kids and boosters
The percentages in this story reflect the total share of the population that has received vaccines. That now includes people as young as 5 years old, for whom vaccines have been authorized.
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Monroe County NY COVID cases, free test kits and vaccination rates