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Why are some WNY counties at “substantial risk” of transmitting COVID-19?

What does “substantial risk” actually mean?
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Posted at 7:28 PM, Aug 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-05 19:28:58-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The CDC has a four category system that measures community transmission in every county. The levels are low, moderate, substantial, and high. According to the CDC, Erie, Niagara, and Cattaraugus County are at “substantial risk” levels of COVID-19 transmission.

We asked Chief of Infectious Diseases with the University at Buffalo, Doctor Russo, everything you need to know about community transmission in our area.

At this point, what does “substantial risk” actually mean?

“It is really a reflection on how much disease we have in the community,” Russo said. “If we have more cases, we have more individuals that are infectious-- that’s going to therefore increase your risk of becoming infected.”

How is “community transmission” measured?

The levels of transmission are based on positivity rates and new cases.

The CDC says substantial transmission happens when counties have more than 50 new cases per one hundred thousand people a week. High transmission is 100 cases per one hundred thousand.

“The recent uptick in cases and hospitalizations we’ve had in WNY is frustrating, and we want to minimize it,” Russo said. “Our risk will continue to increase if we don’t gather ourselves and take this situation seriously."

How does our area compare to everywhere else?

The seven-day case rate for the United States is 187 per one hundred thousand. In Erie County, it’s 62 per one hundred thousand.

“We’re doing much better than other parts of the country, but at this point, every death is preventable,” Russo said.

How does our substantial risk compare to where we were at since the pandemic started?

To crunch the numbers, Russo said it’s more reliable to look at hospitalizations instead of positive COVID-19 tests.

“It’s likely we have more cases out there because testing is down, but hospitalizations are testing individual metrics,” Russo said. “Hospitalizations are the most objective metric to how we are doing right now.”

Erie County’s largest spikes were after Thanksgiving, post Christmas, and around St. Patrick's Day and Easter.

December 10: 456 people were hospitalized because of COVID-19 in Erie County.

December 31: 439 people were hospitalized because of COVID-19 in Erie County.

April 16: 303 people were hospitalized because of COVID-19 in Erie County.

August 5: 48 people were hospitalized because of COVID-19 in Erie County.

“We are doing much, much better than our previous surge, and that's largely due to higher vaccination rates for our most vulnerable, but this surge is not done,” Russo said.

How do we lower our “substantial risk”?

Doctor Russo said vaccinations and masks.

“There's a significant portion of our most vulnerable that are yet to be vaccinated, so things can potentially get worse,” Russo said. “It's critical we take every effort to minimize additional cases that can result in hospitalizations and bad outcomes.”