The Rule of Threes suggests a trio of entities is more amusing, fulfilling or effective than other numbers. This winter it might also prove to be dangerous.
The seven-day average of positive COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people on Long Island climbed from 24.3 to 43.7 — a 79.8% increase — from Sept. 15 to Dec. 15, per state data. This, combined with an increase in influenza and respiratory syncytial virus cases, has created a “triple epidemic.”
The state has already begun planning and spreading information about the potential hazards this winter.
“New Yorkers can’t get complacent in our fight against the triple threat of COVID, RSV and influenza,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said at a presser. “We have to take advantage of the resources at our disposal so that we come out of this winter season healthy and happy.”
Dr. Mary Bassett, the state health commissioner, is also urging New Yorkers to get vaccinated.
“We have highly effective, safe vaccines for both flu and for COVID,” she said. “The vaccine for COVID is the new bivalent vaccine, the one that is for the first time keyed to the circulating variants that we have. If you haven’t gotten the bivalent vaccine, that’s the one you should get.”
This uptick in COVID-19 cases in Nassau County has already prompted some institutions, such as Nassau Community College, to reimplement mask mandates. (School officials changed their judgment hours later and offered a recommendation instead.)
But as the pandemic enters its third year, the combined effect of exhaustion and fatigue has prompted medical officials, such as Dr. Adrian Popp, chair of Infectious Disease at Huntington Hospital, to encourage vigilance.
“Last year we barely saw any influenza. Last year we barely saw any respiratory viruses,” he said, “because the population was at large ‘behaving’ and respecting or following these protection measures.”
The more a virus circulates, the more likely it is to develop. These changes can lead to a virus variant that is better adapted to its environment than the original, including COVID-19.
Popp said the current variant is not the same as the one from 2020 and is less lethal, but can still affect anyone. Those under threat then, such as the elderly and those with underlying health concerns, are still at serious risk.
He said he’d deal with influenza at its height in January or February, as more people are inside. But this year, it has moved up to November. He added other viral infection cases are also rising.
“We became complacent,” said Popp. “Barely anybody’s wearing masks right now. People go and do whatever they like, hang out in restaurants and crowded places and it shows. All these viruses were at bay for the last couple of years. Now they are returning with a vengeance and that has to do with our behavior.”
Popp said individuals were more at ease as restrictions loosened. As a result, the resurgence of mask requests has displeased some.
“We’re paying the price of being complacent over the last several months with lowering our guard against protection against respiratory viral illnesses,” he said. “That’s what we see.”
A national survey from Monmouth University in October found that a fifth of Americans think the pandemic isn’t over. Yet, it says that most feel it is time to abandon pandemic-era limitations such as mask and vaccine regulations.
The polls said only 21% of the public believes the pandemic is over, while 26% believe it will be over soon. Half (50%) believe it will never end and that people will have to accept it.
On prevention, Popp said while boosters do not totally guard against new variations, they are still effective. He added that flu shots are also helpful.
But, most importantly, he recommended common sense. This includes avoiding crowded places and wearing masks in public.
“A lot of these infection control measures are not rocket science. It’s not that we try to impose them on certain people or whatnot,” said Popp. “It’s just common sense that you protect yourself and protect your friends, neighbors and people who you don’t even know.”