‘Family spread’ leading source of local cases

MAYVILLE — Family spread remains one of the largest culprits of COVID-19 cases within Chautauqua County. Those who fail to comply with orders that seek to stem that spread as cases surge in Western New York could face fines.

Christine Schuyler, county public health director, discussed a wide range of coronavirus-related topics during last week’s meeting of the county Board of Health. She was asked the source of cases locally after a report in Europe suggested schools and supermarkets were partially responsible for spreading the virus from person to person.

“What we have seen, just from case investigations, really seems to be family spread,” Schuyler said. “We have a lot of family members spreading it amongst themselves. We got a couple weddings where it has gone through large portions of the families on both sides and friends. We’ve had Tanglewood Manor. So it really seems to be community spread; we haven’t seen spread within schools, which is really good.”

As far as workplace spread, Schuyler said it appears people are more often getting COVID-19 at home and then bringing it into work. Recent clusters include Fieldbrook Foods in Dunkirk and Tanglewood Manor in West Ellicott.

Concerns over the spread of COVID-19 have only been heightened by the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and a limit placed on private gatherings of up to 10 people announced recently by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In a news release Monday afternoon, the county noted that those who do not comply with the orders could face fines up to $15,000. Businesses that fail to follow NY Forward guidelines also could be subject to fines of up to $2,000 per day.

“Community spread of COVID-19 will only be controlled if each person takes personal responsibility for their health and that of those around them,” Schuyler said. “Health Department staff are conducting inspections and investigating complaints; violations will go to the Board of Health for action against individuals and businesses. It is up to the businesses to make sure their staff and customers comply in order to keep all of their staff and customers safe.”

On Monday, the Chautauqua County Department of Health reported 18 new cases of COVID-19, adding to the 47 announced over the weekend. Of the new cases, 21 were reported in the Jamestown zip code, seven in Bemus Point, four in Dunkirk, two each in Silver Creek, South Dayton, Westfield and Frewsburg and one each in Irving, Cassadaga, Clymer, Forestville, Ripley, Sinclairville, Brocton, Panama and Dewittville.

The county Health Department said there remains 149 active cases for those who continue to recover under orders from local health officials, as well as 12 people with COVID-19 hospitalized, 1,345 recoveries, 16 deaths and 1,510 total confirmed cases.

Through tests returned Saturday and reported by the state on Sunday, Chautauqua County’s percent positive rate remains the lowest in Western New York but is creeping up compared to the last couple of weeks. Sunday’s percent positive rate was 2.8%, the lowest rate reported in Western New York on Saturday. The county’s seven-day average of 2.4% is also the lowest in Western New York but nearly a full percentage point higher than it was last Monday at 1.3%.

Last week, the county Health Board also discussed plans for a COVID-19 vaccine. Schuyler said the state will “dictate and manage the entire vaccination program.”

“It’ll be up to them how the vaccine is distributed, who gets it, who stores it and where it goes to,” she added. “There’s still a lot to be worked out — a lot of unknowns on the vaccine front.”

The county was required to submit a vaccination plan to the state by Nov. 16. The topic was also addressed during a virtual town hall session last week.

“We are attempting to do mass vaccination in a way that has never been looked at in this country before,” Schuyler said during the town hall. “There are a lot of unknowns out there and the devil will be in the details, but we have done a lot of the framework for a plan, put it together and submitted it.”

Specifically, the county has adopted the state Health Department COVID-19 Vaccination Response Plan to reflect local needs, Schuyler said. Clinics will be drive-through, with locations throughout the county.

“The goal is for our team to be ready to distribute a vaccine as soon as it is available,” she said.

In related news, Schuyler noted that for the months of September and October, the county topped Western New York and state averages when it came to disease investigation and contact tracing. The numbers were included in a report from the New York State Department of Health and shared recently with county officials.

For those two months, members of the county Health Department’s COVID-19 response team successfully reached 99.5% of the 663 positive cases, and completed interviews with 94.1% of cases; 78% of interviews were completed within 24 hours. Information for identified close contacts was obtained from 68.7% of cases; each case listed an average of 3.3 contacts.

Schuyler said a contact is considered anyone who has been within 6 feet of a known positive case for more than 10 minutes, regardless if a face mask was worn.

“This is the effort of our local team. This tells you how hard our staff works,” Schuyler told the board. “They are so committed and dedicated and do all that they can to reach people quickly and efficiently. They make sure that people receive the education that they need to stay isolated.”

The New York State Contact Tracing Virtual Call Center provides COVID-19 services on behalf of the county. For September and October, 2,167 contacts were confirmed. Of those identified, 91.3% were reached; 76.1% were interviewed (74.7% interviews completed within 48 hours); with 14.3% of contacts who reported symptoms.

Of the 2,167 contacts for the two months, 2% ended up testing positive for COVID-19.

These rates were similar to, but slightly lower than Western New York and New York state rates. All figures are considered “green,” or good, on the NYS Contact Tracing dashboard, with the exception of contacts with interviews completed within 48 hours which falls into the “yellow,” or “acceptable” category.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the county has provided 10 people with housing assistance for isolation and quarantine. That includes three people who were identified as homeless, a family of three and a family of four.

“We needed to provide actual housing and all of the supports to go along with it for them to serve out their isolation and quarantine time,” Schuyler said.


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