County reports 1,000 breakthrough COVID-19 cases; 12 died

The above graph shows the number of COVID-19 deaths in Cattaraugus County since August including those who were vaccinated (in blue) and unvaccinated in orange.

OLEAN — As the number of COVID-19 cases in Cattaraugus County has skyrocketed over the past few months there have been about 1,000 breakthrough cases in which fully vaccinated residents have contracted COVID-19.

Dr. Kevin D. Watkins, public health director, told the county’s Board of Health Wednesday that 12 people who were vaccinated died from September through November — when the death toll rose from 121 to 176.

In September, there were eight COVID-19 deaths, including one person who was vaccinated. In October, there were 24 deaths, including six who were vaccinated, and in November when there were 30 deaths, with five of those people vaccinated.

In August, there were 260 positive cases involving unvaccinated individuals and 53 who were vaccinated. September’s cases involved 672 who were unvaccinated and 185 who were vaccinated. In October there were 988 cases that involved unvaccinated people and 292 who were vaccinated. Last month, there were 1,575 cases among unvaccinated people and 387 who were vaccinated.

Watkins also said there have been three or four breakthrough cases in which the individuals had received a booster shot and contracted COVID-19. It could have been they were infected before receiving the booster shot or they were exposed to the coronavirus within 14 days of their booster shot before the antibodies had ramped up.

Data indicates that all three vaccines’ effectiveness wanes over time, Watkins said. Of the 1,000 breakthroughs, Watkins said 476 had received the Moderna shots, 318 got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and 213 got the Pfizer shots.

The COVID-19 deaths generally involved residents with underlying health conditions, including COPD, immune-compromised cancer patients, those with hypertension and diabetes and renal disease, Watkins said.

On Tuesday, there were 59 county residents hospitalized with COVID, including 41 in Olean General Hospital, where seven of the ICU beds are COVID-19 patients on ventilators, Watkins said.

There were also three county patients in each of three hospitals — Brooks in Dunkirk, Bertrand Chaffee in Springville and the Buffalo VA Hospital. There are two patients each in Jones Memorial Hospital in Wellsville and UPMC, and one each at Bradford (Pa.) Regional Medical Center, Buffalo General, Erie County Medical Center, Millard Fillmore Hospital and Charles Cole UPMC in Coudersport, Pa.

Watkins urged residents who are not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated and for those who have already been fully vaccinated to get a booster shot. Several vaccination clinics have already been scheduled for this month by the health department, he said.

With the county’s high community transmission rate, Watkins urged people to follow CDC guidelines and wear masks in public places and when meeting people who do not live with them. Maintain a safe distance and wash your hands frequently, he added.

The Board of Health returned to a virtual meeting Wednesday as COVID-19 cases and deaths continue a steep climb.

The county climbed past the 10,000 threshold of residents testing positive for COVID-19 last month, with nearly one-fifth of those cases occurring in October.

Last month turned out to be a record month for both infections and deaths. Health department data shows 1,962 cases and 35 deaths in October.

The board meeting came days after South African scientists announced a new COVID-19 variant, the Omicron variant, which is said to be more transmissible. There is too little data to say if it will cause serious illness or be able to avoid the COVID-19 antibodies in vaccinated individuals and those who contracted the coronavirus, Watkins said.

“This has nothing to do with the omicron variant,” said Board of Health President Dr. Joseph Bohan of the decision to have the board meet virtually.

“It has everything to do with the delta variant which has severely impacted the residents of Cattaraugus County,” Bohan said. “We are paying the price for the county’s low vaccination rate.”

Watkins said the meeting was being held via Zoom video conference “out of an abundance of caution.” The policy will be reevaluated before the next meeting in February.

Watkins said the county’s rate of transmission remains among the highest in the state, on par with Allegany County. Only about half the 18 and older population in the county is vaccinated. Youths up to age 19 currently represent the age group with the most COVID-19 infections.

Watkins said with county forces stretched thin, the state Health Department has offered to begin the daily contact of about 100 residents who have recently tested positive for COVID-19.

“A lot of individuals are really getting sick and need to be seen by a medical doctor,” Watkins said. The daily wellness checks are crucial in determining whether an individual is directed to seek medical care at a time when many Western New York hospitals are at or near capacity, he said. Other employees are purchasing needed supplies for those in quarantine and delivering them.

Watkins said COVID-19 has swept through whole families. County officials are increasingly concerned with the high number of new cases, particularly because that is often followed by increased hospitalizations and deaths.

The first cases of influenza are starting to show up locally, Watkins said.

So far, he said, there have been 48 cases of Influenza A reported and 11 cases of Influenza B. It’s not too late to get a flu shot from the health department, a pharmacy or personal physician, he added.

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)

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