Camp Pontiac’s COVID-19 outbreak reminds us pandemic isn’t done with us yet

The 31 campers age 12 and younger at Copake’s Camp Pontiac who tested positive for COVID-19 that made national news this past week provided an important reality check. It reminded those of us living and working in the Harlem Valley that we are not out of the woods when it comes to beating the deadly coronavirus. 

Yes, it has been a long 17 months since the fatal respiratory virus was officially declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), echoed by the U.S. government and the State of New York, hopefully conveying the seriousness with which we need to take our public health. In fact, since then, more than 627,039 Americans have perished as a result of the pandemic, with more than 4,187,552 people dying worldwide due to the virus as of Tuesday, July 27.

With such staggering statistics, it’s heartening to know that since March of 2020 the majority of the American public has been following federal and state governmental and health official mandates: wearing face masks, social distancing, following proper hygiene protocols, traveling less often, etc. 

Some of those guidances may soon return as virus numbers begin to rise and some states, like California, are requiring both the vaccinated and unvaccinated to once again wear masks. That would be a step back, as in May most states began to ease their COVID restrictions. 

Many months earlier, in December of 2020, the highly dominant delta variant was identified in India. Soon after, delta became the predominant strain in Great Britain.

According to Dr. Inci Yildirim, a Yale Medicine pediatric infectious diseases specialist and a vaccinologist who published an article in “Yale Medicine” on June 28 that was updated on July 22, “Delta is spreading 50% faster than Alpha, which was 50% more contagious than the original strain of SARS-CoV-2.”

In other words, the delta variant is “more contagious” than other strains of the COVID virus discovered thus far. The doctor added that unvaccinated people are most  at risk. 

While we don’t yet know if the campers at Camp Pontiac were exposed to the delta variant (they were reportedly tested for delta during the weekend of July 24 and 25), we do know they were all unvaccinated. That’s because those who fell ill were all 12 or younger. The older campers, camp staff and others at Camp Pontiac who did not get sick  were mostly completely vaccinated (for full story, read this week’s front page). 

So far the U.S. has not approved vaccinations for children between 5 and 12 years old, although vaccines for that age group are currently in the works. 

The U.S. and some other countries have also approved or are in the process of approving vaccines for adolescents, who are highly encouraged to get inoculated in hopes of staying virus-free.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky has called the health crisis “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” She’s backed by the medical field, which worries people who remain unvaccinated are extremely vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. 

Now seems like the perfect moment, therefore, to issue this gentle reminder: All New Yorkers can get free COVID-19 vaccinations — without any questions about their health insurance status or their immigration status. 

According to Governor Andrew Cuomo, 74.6% of New York residents 18 or older have received at least one dose of the vaccine, per the CDC, as of 11 a.m. Monday morning, July 26. 

“Over the past 24 hours,” said the governor in his Monday email briefing, “22,912 total doses have been administered. To date, New York has administered 22,055,646 total doses with 68% of adult New Yorkers completing their vaccine series.”

Yet Cuomo expressed concern as a quarter of New York adults — roughly 3.5 million people — remain unvaccinated, and “the number of new cases is about five times more than it was just a month ago.” Of those new cases, nearly 72% are the delta variant.

The New York State Department of Health reminds us that those who aren’t vaccinated must still wear a mask when they can’t social distance, per federal CDC guidance.

COVID vaccines are easy to get these days at local pharmacies, doctors’ offices, health departments, clinics, Federally Qualified Health Centers and other locations across the state. Simply go to www.vaccines.gov for an appointment, contact your local pharmacy or provider or go to www.covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/. You may also call the New York State COVID-19 Vaccination Hotline at 1-833-NYS-4-VAX (1-833-697-4829).

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