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Experts warn about high COVID-19 transmission through winter

Governor Andrew Cuomo's office

As case numbers rise across the region and much of the country, local experts are worried about transmission rates during and after this holiday season.

“All indications are that we're going in the wrong direction for sure,” said Dr. Stephen Thomas, an infectious disease expert at Upstate University Hospital.

Thomas said the culprit for the recent surge in cases is because many people aren’t taking as many precautions now that vaccines are widely available.

“So we know people are not wearing masks, and we know people are gathering and we know people are in close quarters,” he said. “So these are all the things contributing to this scenario.”

Thomas recently signed a letter from Upstate University Hospital to the central New York community urging them to take the necessary precautions to minimize risk.

Syracuse University epidemiologist, David Larsen, agrees with Thomas saying people have let their guard down and that could be costly to public health.

“People are kind of returning to normal life quite a bit,” said Larsen. “So there is a lot of opportunity for the virus to spread.”

While the vaccine reduces risk of contracting COVID-19, vaccinated individuals can still transmit the virus to others which Larsen said poses a large threat to those who are unvaccinated.

“People who are unvaccinated this year are at higher risk of [COVID-19] hospitalization and death than they were last year because transmission will be higher,” said Larsen. “People were vaccinated and they're changing their behavior.”

Neither expert is trying to be pessimistic about this winter’s outlook. They both agree that the vaccine was never meant to fully protect people from mild cases of COVID, but it is supposed to minimize harm, hospitalization and death.

That being said, they have a few tips for people going into the holiday season. Larsen’s advice is two-fold:

“You can reduce the size of gatherings and you can reduce the frequency of gatherings,” he said.

Thomas shared similar sentiments.

“You should think very carefully about the number of people you're inviting and making sure that they are making sure that they're vaccinated,” he said.

Most importantly, they both recommend getting vaccinated, boosted, and picking up that mask again when you’re going into crowded indoor spaces.

Madison Ruffo received a Master’s Degree from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, where she specialized in audio and health/science reporting. Madison has extensively covered the environment, local politics, public health, and business. When she’s not reporting, you can find Madison reading, hiking, and spending time with her family and friends.