ALBANY — As the number of the COVID-19 omicron variant cases continues to spike, the president and CEO of Albany Medical Center Hospital has a simple message — eat right and exercise.
“We know that higher body mass index and being overweight and having diabetes and having hypertension are serious and significant risk factors for landing in the hospital with COVID,” said Dr. Dennis McKenna during an appearance on Talk 1300 radio. “I would ask everyone to evaluate their own health plan, what they eat, are they taking blood pressure medications, are they exercising regularly. These things can make a difference, not just with COVID, but they can make a difference with a lot of other diseases.”
While stressing a living a healthy lifestyle, McKenna did not dismiss the importance or effectiveness of vaccinations
“Of course I believe the booster is safe and effective and I encourage people to get the vaccine,” he said. “I think it makes a difference in reducing hospitalizations and if you do get COVID I think you will have a much more mild course if you are vaccinated.”
He said while the numbers are growing, there are less people in the hospital who require ICU care. Right now, he said, 15 percent of the 382 people hospitalized with COVID are in the ICU compared to as many as 46 percent a year ago at the height of COVID.
He said about a third of those patients in the hospital with COVID came in for treatment of something else and were asymptomatic but were tested for COVID as per hospital protocol. In the eight-county Capital District Region, the number who tested positive after seeking treatment for something else was 24 percent as of Tuesday, Jan. 11, according to the state Department of Health, and statewide it was 42 percent of the total 12,540.
“This is a different kind of COVID. First of all, we have close to 80 percent of our population vaccinated and second of all this variant is more mild,” he said, adding that some 70 percent of those hospitalized are not vaccinated.
Meanwhile, Albany County reported another four-digit day with 1,166 new cases, bringing the total number of cases across the 50,000 threshold to 51,024.
“I saw a headline the other day ‘United States sets world record for number of cases.’ On the one hand having 1.5 million people test positive for omicron is something that is perhaps news worthy but we have to understand we are testing people in this country on a magnitude that is not happening anywhere else,” McKenna said. “There is more to that than simply the fact he virus is going everywhere it’s the fact we are doing more testing. In addition, it’s not the fact we have 1.5 million cases, it’s how many are mild cases and how many are asymptomatic cases and how many people are being tested for different reasons.”
He didn’t diminish the potential serious ramifications of COVID, and recommends if people are showing symptoms to consult with a physician “but the overwhelming, and I mean overwhelming, majority of people who test positive probably do not need to seek medical care,” he said.
As to hospital capacity, he said Albany Med, on any given day, has between 10 and 15 percent of bed capacity for medical concerns other than COVID.
“People in this region need to understand we have professionals who deal with seasonal viruses and hospitalizations that go up in the winter and we have been doing it since we have had hospitals and, quite frankly, we have been doing it long before the local elected officials made a lot of news about it,” he said. “We can handle this and we will always be able to handle this.”
Albany County Dan McCoy, who issues a daily press report detailing the number of cases in his county said there were 23 more county residents hospitalized bringing the total to 119, a net increase of one. There are 18 in the ICU, up from 16 on Tuesday.
Also, a man in his 80s died from complications related to COVID, bringing the county’s death toll to 480 since the beginning of the pandemic.
“Not only do I have to report the most recent Albany County resident losing their life to COVID complications, we also have the highest number of residents currently in ICU’s with the virus since Jan. 7, 2021,” he said. “This number isn’t far from the peak of 24 individuals we had reported back on Jan. 4 of last year.”
As of Tuesday, 79.5 percent of all county residents received at least the first dose of vaccine and 72.1 percent have been fully vaccinated. Of those county residents 18 and older, 88.3 percent have received at least the first dose.