COVID deaths in New York state spiked 30% last month — to the highest tally since early 2022 — nearly three years after the virus first ravaged the state, a Post analysis shows.
There were 915 deaths linked to coronavirus and its variants in the Empire State in December — about 30 a day — compared with 664 deaths in November.
The monthly death toll hit levels unseen since February 2022, The Post review of state Health Department data found — and comes despite widely available vaccines and antiviral drugs to treat COVID-19.
Public health experts said the rising rate is proof that COVID can still be considered a pandemic rather than a rear-view-mirror nuisance.
The virus has taken more than 77,000 lives in New York since early 2020, data compiled by the US Centers for Disease Control show.
Nearly 1.1 million Americans have died from COVID-related illness, according to the CDC.
The elderly — particularly those with other illnesses or who are unvaccinated — are most at risk for hospitalization or death.
State data show 87% of those who have died from COVID are 60 and over, and a majority had heart- or blood-related illnesses.
According to health advocates, public fatigue and resistance to nagging recommendations to take precautions – like masking up – have contributed to the latest spikes in hospitalizations and deaths. Mask mandates in the city and state were scrapped last year.
“People have let their guard down a bit, to be honest,” said Dr. Ayman El-Mohandes, dean of CUNY’s Graduate School of Public Health. “It does appear in the current situation we are seeing a surge in new variants and people are less attentive.”
El-Mohandes noted colder weather and influx of holiday-season tourists likely had an impact — but argued “the pandemic is not over” and “people should not be oblivious to the risk.”
Last spring, Dr. Anthony Fauci, former chief medical adviser to President Biden, said the US was “out of the pandemic phase” – although COVID remains very contagious and neither the World Health Organization nor the CDC have downgraded it from pandemic status.
In a statement to The Post, the state Health Department said New Yorkers face a “triple-demic” of COVID-19, the flu and Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV.
“Covid-19 continues to be a primary concern for public health officials, claiming lives every day in New York State, across the country and around the world,” said DOH spokesman Cort Ruddy.
“High levels of flu and RSV have also combined to create what is, essentially, a triple-demic this fall and winter. That is why the Department continues to urge all New Yorkers to take precautions to protect themselves and loved ones, including staying up to date on vaccines, including the bivalent booster for COVID-19. These vaccines greatly reduce the chance of serious illness or death.”
State data show 85% of residents over 18 have received their primary series of COVID vaccination, but only about 15% are up to date with the latest booster series, which includes the Omicron bivalent booster.
The number of New Yorkers hospitalized with COVID has also increased.
There were 2,846 patients hospitalized with COVID as of Nov. 1, with 307 in the intensive care unit. That number jumped to 3,960 hospitalizations and 413 ICU patients by Dec. 30 — and 4,157 hospitalized by Jan. 5, according to the DOH data.
The death rate for the first week of January 2023 has mirrored December, with 62 COVID-linked deaths reported combined from last Wednesday and Thursday.
Gov. Hochul said we’re not out of the woods.
“I urge everyone to remain vigilant and continue to use all available tools to keep themselves, their loved ones and their communities safe and healthy,” she said Friday.
“Stay up to date on vaccine doses, and test before gatherings or travel. If you test positive, talk to your doctor about potential treatment options.”
The Health Department reported a new Omicron variant – XBB.1.5.– is now the most dominant strain, accounting for more than 50% of COVID infections nationwide. Officials said the new variant is more contagious because it mutates, allowing it to attach to cells and replicate.
“Since it emerged, the COVID-19 virus continues to change,” acting State Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald said. “The new bivalent booster has been updated to address these changes, which is why it is so important that all New Yorkers 6 months and older get the important protection it offers.”
He said the bivalent booster provides significant protection against getting very sick or being hospitalized, and those with the vaccination are more than 18 times less likely to die from COVID compared to those who are unvaccinated.
The number of COVID deaths by month in 2022 are: December 915; November 664; October 683; September 486; August 592; July 534; June 464; May 613; April 353; March 400; February 1,652; January 4,592.