POTSDAM, NY – Here in the North Country we appear to have morphed into a time where it is more common to see smiling faces and fewer hidden behind masks. Being part of a population that is immunized against COVID-19 is undoubtedly a main reason we are feeling freer when we are out in the community doing our daily business.
While the fear factor seems to have taken a backseat for many of us, Canton-Potsdam Hospital Associate Chief Medical Officer Andrew Williams, MD, FACP, pointed out it is still important to remain vigilant over our own health, and the health of our neighbors.
“As a nation, we are in a much better position concerning COVID. Vaccine-induced immunity, infection- mediated immunity, and evolution of the virus itself have reduced the seriousness of most infections,” he said. “At this time, we have effective vaccines and treatments, and we know how to reduce the risk of spread. COVID is now one of many respiratory viruses that create ‘nuisance infections’ for the majority of people who become infected. However, optimism concerning COVID needs to be tempered by an understanding that for our medically compromised and/or immunosuppressed community members, infection can be more serious. Long-COVID, regardless of an individual’s baseline health, remains a concern.”
In the North Country region, the newest variant of COVID, XBB.1.5 (a hybrid of two BA.2 variants) became the dominant version of COVID beginning in late December 2022. It appears to be more contagious, and more likely to evade our immune system (including vaccine-induced and natural immunity), yet causes the same symptoms as prior variants of COVID.
Many local community members received the initial single- or double-round COVID-19 vaccination, but not everyone has received a booster.
“It is strongly recommended that eligible individuals complete the primary vaccine series and receive at least one booster. Those at higher risk of complications from COVID are especially urged to have the full vaccination series, including the newer bivalent booster. Immunity to COVID increases with each successive vaccine (and infection). The vaccines and boosters reduce the risk of developing COVID but clearly do not entirely prevent infection. Most importantly, the primary vaccine series and boosters reduce the chance of severe illness or death,” Dr. Williams said.
St. Lawrence Health Emergency Medicine Director Jason Lorenc, MD, noted the number of people presenting to the three system Emergency Departments with COVID symptoms has remained steady.
“We are at the tail end of the influenza A-wave, and many of our Emergency patients believe they have the flu, but actually have COVID,” he said.
Dr. Lorenc pointed out there are still a number of hospitalized COVID-positive patients in the region. Dr. Williams noted people should understand their risk for severe illness and take advantage of preventative measures (vaccine boosters, masks).
“Those who become seriously ill or are at risk of severe illness should contact their physician early in the illness so that Paxlovid and/or other treatments can be initiated,” Dr. Williams said.
“The majority of COVID cases at this time are relatively mild and do not lead to serious illness or death. It is common for individuals to have COVID and then become re-infected. Many people have mild cold symptoms, others have a flu-like illness,” he added.
Much like the annual flu vaccine, Dr. Williams noted healthcare providers are anticipating a similar seasonal vaccine strategy for COVID.
St. Lawrence Health continues to operate COVID Testing Centers in Gouverneur, Massena, and Potsdam. Go online to schedule a testing appointment.
Ms. Fournier said she felt like she was “coming home” when she drove to CPH on her first day of work.
COVID-19 information for the Greater Rochester and Finger Lakes region, including current COVID cases, positivity and hospitalization rates, and guidance about COVID vaccines and boosters
Stay up to date on influenza in your community. You can find information about the number of flu cases, treating symptoms, finding flu shots, how long a flu season lasts, and more.