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What you should know about 'breakthrough' COVID-19 cases in Cayuga County

COVID-19 chart 1

A chart created by The Citizen using data from the Cayuga County Health Department shows the trend of unvaccinated vs. vaccinated COVID-19 cases since Aug. 23. 

For the second consecutive day in Cayuga County, there were more vaccinated individuals testing positive for COVID-19 than infections among unvaccinated residents. 

The Cayuga County Health Department reported 58 new cases on Tuesday, 33 of which were fully vaccinated. The remaining 25 cases were unvaccinated. 

"Breakthrough" cases — vaccinated residents contracting COVID-19 — do happen since the vaccine, like other vaccines, is not 100% effective at preventing infection. Since Oct. 1, there have been 368 new cases in Cayuga County, nearly 48% of which were vaccinated. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has long acknowledged that "some people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will still get sick," according to its website. However, the agency adds, data shows that "vaccination may make symptoms less severe in people who are vaccinated but still get COVID-19." 

In New York, the state Department of Health says there have been 106,308 confirmed COVID-19 cases among vaccinated individuals — less than 1% of the more than 12 million New Yorkers who are fully vaccinated. Among that population, 7,091 people who are fully vaccinated have been hospitalized with COVID-19. 

This has been observed in Cayuga County. The health department's latest update reveals that 23 residents are hospitalized with COVID-19, 16 of whom are vaccinated. Most of the patients are age 60 or older — a demographic that has the highest vaccination rates in the county. Nearly 79% of county residents ages 65 and older are fully vaccinated, according to the state's vaccine tracker. 

The effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines has been on display during the recent COVID-19 surge in Cayuga County. In August and September, there were 1,826 new cases, including 206 people who are ages 65 and older. Two-thirds of these cases (141 of 206) were fully vaccinated. 

But even as cases spiked, there weren't high levels of hospitalizations or deaths. During the county's first surge over the winter, 74 people — all of whom were age 60 or older — died. Auburn Community Hospital reached a peak of 46 virus-related patients in mid-January. That count doesn't include any county residents hospitalized elsewhere. It's likely the number of hospitalized residents was much higher. 

In August and September, the highest number of hospitalizations was 25. The total was based on reports from Auburn and three Syracuse hospitals. Thirteen Cayuga County residents died of COVID-19. Two were under age 60. The health department does not release an individual's vaccination status when it announces a COVID-19 death. 

What the health department does share is the vaccination status of hospitalized patients. The total number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 over the past two months is unknown, but there have been multiple days when vaccinated people outnumber the unvaccinated in area hospitals. On Tuesday, there were 23 patients with COVID-19 in four central New York hospitals. Sixteen are vaccinated. 

Yet, the death toll has been low compared to what it was nearly a year ago. In December and January, there were nearly six times as many deaths as the two-month period during the recent wave. 

The CDC says vaccines are effective. It recommends everyone who is eligible — people ages 12 and older — to get vaccinated. But Cayuga County lags behind the national and statewide vaccination rates. 

So far, 56.6% of Americans and 64.7% of New Yorkers are fully vaccinated. In Cayuga County, the vaccination rate is 52.9%. 

Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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Online producer and politics reporter

I have been The Citizen's online producer and politics reporter since December 2009. I'm the author of the Eye on NY blog and write the weekly Eye on NY column that appears every Sunday in the print edition of The Citizen and online at

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