As COVID-19 experiences a resurgence in New York, infection control measures in key sectors such as schools, healthcare institutions and care homes are once again under focus. Despite current public health strategies being less stringent than those during the early stages of the pandemic, the threat of severe outbreaks and increased fatalities in the coming seasons remains high, more so with the potential emergence of the new BA.2.86 variant, also known as Pirola. This concern is intensified by the lukewarm response of some New Yorkers towards COVID-19 vaccine boosters and antiviral pills, accentuating the paramount importance of continued vigilance in this ongoing public health battle.
The present infection control guidelines set by state officials echo the recommendations of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A significant factor triggering these measures is the monitoring of COVID-19 hospitalization rates within the population. Currently, New York holds a low weekly hospitalization rate of 5.5 for every 100,000 citizens, far below the ‘high’ threshold of 20 per 100,000 which necessitates escalated infection control protocols. One should remember, however, that many COVID-19 cases may go unregistered due to private, at-home testing or lack of testing altogether.
Education institutions have specific stringent measures to adhere to in the event of ‘high’ hospital admission levels – additional precautionary steps should be put in place, especially within institutions catering for students with severe health conditions. It should also be noted that the obligation for schools to report COVID-19 cases was discontinued last year. However, up-to-date guidelines can always be found on the CDC’s official website.
An important health guideline dictates that irrespective of one’s vaccination status, isolation from others is mandatory should they be either diagnosed with COVID-19 or suspect an infection while awaiting test results. The isolation lasts for five days and is conditional upon the resolution of symptoms. Furthermore, quarantine after exposure to COVID-19 is no longer recommended unless in high-risk environments, such as correctional facilities, homeless shelters and nursing homes.
Interestingly, at schools, those exposed to the virus are encouraged to wear well-fitted masks and get tested. Moreover, the state has revised its requirement for nursing homes to verify visitor’s negative COVID-19 tests and conduct active screening. These decisions have led to concerns amidst an anticipated health crisis and with low vaccination rates among nursing home workers and the general population. While boosters significantly increase protection against severe illness, less than a third of nursing home workers, and only 15.5% of the general New York populace, are up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccinations.
With the introduction of a new COVID-19 booster expected soon, and the continuity of stringent requirements for hospitals to maintain stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE), health officials and authorities are hard at work preparing for potential outbreaks. Simultaneously, the roll-back of free COVID-19 testing following the end of the public health emergency declaration in May has some exceptions for uninsured Americans, through certain federal programs.
In conclusion, it is recommended that symptomatic or COVID-19 positive individuals consult healthcare providers for the best treatment options and take advantage of federal resources such as the ‘Test to Treat’ program for test and medication access.