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North Country health officials say unvaccinated filling up hospitals

Published: Dec. 8, 2021 at 6:40 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 8, 2021 at 7:01 PM EST
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PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (WCAX) - New York’s North Country is under a state of emergency to control a surge of COVID cases and hospitalizations in Clinton, Essex, and Franklin Counties.

“All of this would not be as bad if folks were vaccinated,” said Dr. Wouter Rietsema, an infectious disease specialist at CVPH in Plattsburgh.

Health officials say there are currently 304 active cases in Clinton County compared to 101 this time last year and the state of emergency is not yet over. “Clinton County is one of only four counties that did not rescind its state of emergency over a year ago,” said Clinton County Legislature Chair Mark Henry.

The state of emergency makes it easier for counties to issue emergency orders including mandates or curfews, although none have been issued at this time. The spike in infections has communities calling on the state for help with more resources including mass testing and vaccination sites.

“Where we are from an infrastructure point of view with testing 20 months in is dreadful,” Rietsema said. He says his hospital is packed with COVID patients and the majority of those are unvaccinated. “Probably at 60% to 70% unvaccinated and the rest are vaccinated, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The really sick people are about 90% unvaccinated.”

around 100 hospital employees have left their jobs the last three months from burnout and health care worker vaccination mandates, further stressing hospital capacity. Rietsema is among officials making a plea to protect public health. “This is a shot or two shots, that all you need to do and we wouldnt have 40 people in the hospital, we wouldn’t have had 13 deaths since September,” he said.

County health officials say a high number of reported cases are from people who showed symptoms of a common cold and delayed testing, spreading the illness to other family members. “If you want to stop this pandemic, if you want to stop it, you need to get vaccinated, it’s the only way to stop it,” said Dr. Keith Collins, an infectious disease specialist at CVPH.

The north country region has restarted its weekly calls with the state so they can talk about the surge. Officials say they believe Thanksgiving helped fuel the surge in cases.

Clinton County has a 75% vaccination rate, which doctors say sounds like a lot, but still leaves 25% percent vulnerable to COVID.

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