ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) – As COVID-19 cases decline across much of the United States, the opposite is happening in the Southern Tier. Local health officials, many of whom are in Steuben County, are reporting high levels of infection.
“It’s a frustrating point for me personally,” Steuben County Manager Jack Wheeler said. “We’ve reached a point where vaccines are so accessible, that anyone who has wanted a vaccine can get it.”
New York is now working to get more shots in arms. According to Wheeler, the state recently released new funding to increase “local messaging” regarding the COVID-19 vaccine.
That local messaging could be used to encourage parents to vaccinate their child if and when Pfizer’s shot is approved by the FDA. Currently, children make up roughly 25-percent of COVID-19 cases across the country.
“We’re seeing higher percentages of children getting sick,” Dr. Justin Nistico of Arnot Health said. “That’s [happening] with the Delta variant or a new variant strain. [Alongside this], children are in school, and it’s very hard sometimes to have them social distance, isolate themselves and wear masks all the time.”
Despite the rise in pediatric cases, adults – mainly those who are unvaccinated – are also contracting the virus.
“We are seeing a surge of cases that are coming into the hospital,” Dr. Nistico said. we have seen a steady surge of these cases over the last few weeks.”
Dr. Nistico told 18 News there are a number of reasons cases remain high in the Southern Tier. He described the region as being one that’s more prone to infection due to low vaccination rates, high poverty rates and a mainly elderly population.
The message from local leaders and health officials remain the same – they continue to ask residents who haven’t yet to get the vaccine.
“Don’t listen to that one article or one source on Facebook, or that video you saw on YouTube, or any of the other viral social media,” Wheeler said. “Talk to your doctor. Your doctor can provide you the information that that you need and whether the vaccine is right for you.”
According to Dr. Nistico, infection rates could dramatically drop if the Southern Tier reaches a vaccination rate close to 70 to 80 percent. The number of residents who are fully vaccinated remains below 50-percent.
“We just got to keep pushing towards that,” Dr. Nistico said. “If we keep doing that, we’ll see definite positive results in the county. It may take some time, but it’ll be positive.”