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Deaths spike weeks into WNY's Covid-19 surge
Deaths spike weeks into WNY's Covid-19 surge

Deaths spike weeks into WNY's Covid-19 surge

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Covid-19 deaths spiked across the region last week in a now-predictable pattern, following a monthlong surge in cases and hospitalizations.

Nearly 60 people died of Covid-19 in Western New York during the week ending Dec. 3, according to data from the New York State Department of Health – a sharp jump from even one or two weeks ago, and a throwback to figures last seen at the tail end of last winter’s uptick.

Public officials have characterized the increase as a predictable consequence of the virus’ continued, far-ranging community spread. While more than 60% of all eligible residents are fully vaccinated – and while the Covid-19 vaccines are highly protective against severe illness and death – a small fraction of vulnerable people still experience severe “breakthrough” cases.

At the same time, hundreds of thousands of eligible Western New Yorkers remain unvaccinated and thus roughly 14 times more likely to die of Covid-19 on average, according to the most recent figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It's as simple [as] this: You are much more likely to be hospitalized for Covid-19, and possibly die, if you are unvaccinated,” Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz wrote in a Thursday post on Twitter. “Too many people in WNY have died who should be alive today but are not because they were unvaccinated.”

The latest Covid-19 fatalities bring Western New York’s total pandemic death count to 2,980 and represent a stark reversal from earlier this year. The region experienced a string of zero-fatality days in July, and average daily deaths remained below five for September and October. That figure hovered around five for almost all of November.

But in the week ending Nov. 26, the day after Thanksgiving, Western New York reported 37 deaths. The next week, that figure rose to 59 – an average of more than eight per day, and a week-over-week increase of almost 60%.

Models from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, a major pandemic forecaster, project that under current conditions and public health precautions, daily deaths across New York will continue to rise moderately through February, though not nearly to the peaks seen earlier in the pandemic.

Both vaccinations and new Covid-19 treatments have, however, changed the shape of the pandemic since then. According to Johns Hopkins University, the number of deaths per 100 confirmed Covid-19 cases in the U.S. has fallen from two at this time last year to 1.6 as of Dec. 3.

But the virus itself is also evolving. Gov. Kathy Hochul this week announced the discovery of multiple Covid-19 cases linked to the Omicron variant, which may be more transmissible than even the Delta strain behind the current surge of infections. There is not yet enough evidence, however, to evaluate if Omicron causes more severe illness, according to the World Health Organization.

“We want people to know that the early cases that have arisen are not life-threatening,” Hochul said in Thursday remarks. “They seem to be minor cases. And that is a source of good news for us right now.”

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Caitlin is an enterprise reporter at The Buffalo News, covering stories about how Western New York is changing. A Buffalo native, she spent six years reporting for the finance and style desks at the Washington Post before returning home in 2018.

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It comes down to several factors, including the Delta variant, the weather, not enough people being vaccinated and the waning efficacy of vaccines for those who did get the shot, according to Dr. Thomas Russo and Dr. Peter Winkelstein.

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