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Medical expert: 'No question' WNY is experiencing 3rd COVID wave

Local experts say this wave is different from what we saw earlier in the coronavirus pandemic, however, in that it appears to be hitting a younger age group.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — "There's no question we are now experiencing our third wave of COVID in our area," said Dr. Peter Winkelstein, the executive director of the Institute for Healthcare Informatics at the University at Buffalo's Jacobs School of Medicine. 

Across Western New York, the region has gone from 137 hospitalizations on March 20, to 297 on April 8, which is near the high point in total hospitalizations seen during the first wave, according to data from the state.

However, this surge is different from what we saw earlier in the pandemic, in that it appears to be hitting a younger age group. 

"The predominant patients are less than 65, and we're seeing more cases than we've ever seen before in the 19-34 age group," said Dr. Brian Murray, the chief medical officer of Erie County Medical Center.

There could be many reasons contributing to this. 

"We think that's due probably to the fact that we've rolled out the vaccine, and we started with the older age groups, so they're probably more protected," Dr. Winkelstein said. "But it may have something to do with how the variants are acting.

"There's some data that they may, unfortunately, be more contagious among younger adults. And of course, there's been a lot of so-called pandemic fatigue. We've been doing this for a year, and it may be that younger adults are being a little less careful than older adults."

Dr. Winkelstien said it's hard to predict what's next because that's dependent on several factors. However, both doctors agree the vaccine is still the answer, and that we just need more of it.

"The good news is we have 25 percent of people fully vaccinated. The bad news is we have only 25 percent of people fully vaccinated," Dr. Murray said. 

He added, "We need to get that number up much higher before you get the phenomenon of what you call herd immunity. We need to be up at about three times that number, which is 75 percent." 

So while we're waiting for more people to get fully vaccinated, health officials stressed that we need to continue to be careful and do our part to slow the spread.

"We don't want to trip right before the finish line, and unfortunately it looks like that's what's happening right now," Dr. Winkelstein said.

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