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Hospitals Tightening Rules In Capital Region As Delta Variant Spreads

Composite Image by Dave Lucas

In mid-June the COVID-19 vaccination rate was accelerating and life seemed to be getting back to normal, but now with positivity rates increasing statewide, area hospitals are shifting gears to deal with the Delta Variant.

Nearly a dozen Capital Region hospitals now require staff to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in efforts to meet the so-called "fourth wave" head on. Albany Medical Center executive vice president and hospital general director Dr.Fred Venditti says the hospitals issued a "consensus statement" on Wednesday.

"As of today, every hospital in our region has a mandatory vaccine policy with deferrals and exemptions, and, you know, a slight variation in how it's implemented. But the goal is to get as close to 100% vaccination of our staff as we can across all our hospitals."

The variant strain has become a major concern nationwide as COVID cases and deaths climb. The CDC has updated its guidelines recommending masks be worn indoors.

Dr. Richard Falivena is Chief Medical Officer at Saratoga Hospital:

"Our seven day rolling average for positive rates is up over 4% here in the Capital Region. Here in Saratoga, specifically, we're at 4.4%, rolling positive rate. And, you know, to put this in context, in the national news, you hear about what's going on, say, you know, Mississippi, well, their, their positive rate is 10 times that, and they're talking about a 40-45% positive rate. And places like Alabama and Florida just stopped reporting their rates, because I think they're so embarrassed by them. So certainly, compared to the rest of the country, we're doing well, we're definitely in the bottom 10% of the country for positive rate.”

Falivena says staffers have continually worn masks throughout the pandemic and now the hospital is asking direct caregivers to wear eye protection as well.

Masking has also been the policy at St. Mary's in Amsterdam, where Dr. William Mayer is chief medical officer:

"We are looking to kind of do more of our meetings internally virtually. We require anyone coming in for visitation to wear a mask. I know that there's other hospitals right now that are either going with or considering not allowing visitors again, we're looking at all those things, continuously trying to make a decision, what is the best way to go we we do want to balance that with with family being able to come and visit their loved ones when they're in the hospital. You know, I personally feel that that is a big factor in helping people get better being isolated from their families is can be very lonely and difficult."

Incoming New York Governor Kathy Hochul says she believes there will be mask mandates in schools when they reopen next month. The American Academy of Pediatrics has documented 94,000 new cases of COVID infections among U.S. children in the last week.

Dr. Steven Hanks, chief clinical officer for St. Peter's Health Partners, says despite the uptick in COVID cases "it's not too late to get vaccinated."

"The vaccines that are available do offer substantive protection, particularly against the worst outcomes of COVID hospitalization, long term issues and up to and including death. And so, vaccine is readily available, and if you've not been vaccinated, please make your way to a vaccine center."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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