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‘Scary’ surge is more than a number

AP Photo Across the nation and in our region, health-care workers are receiving the vaccine for the coronavirus.

Late Tuesday evening, a nurse practitioner took to Facebook to share her plight regarding the rapid COVID-19 increases that are taking a toll on every portion of this region. Her plea was simple and to the point: right now, the virus is “scary.”

“Listen up Chautauqua County! I praised you for keeping us safe during the beginning of this pandemic. This is the time to show your true colors,” wrote Jessica Cappa of Jamestown. “We have to double down! It is time. Our hospitals are getting full. The hospitals we transfer our heart attacks and strokes to are over capacity. We have four-hour waits for COVID testing at our Urgent Cares, meanwhile I am seeing 10 to 12 patients per hour. There are cases everywhere, many are newly exposed and shedding the virus without symptoms.”

Over the last three days, her post has been shared 164 times. Impressive, but nowhere near enough.

Across America and in Chautauqua County, we have saluted those who have been on the front lines since the start of the pandemic more than nine months ago. Health-care workers, particularly those in emergency rooms and intensive care units, have been living what must seem to be an unending reality.

However, if we really want to show our respect to these heroes, we need to take Cappa’s words to heart. She, like others in her profession, are first-hand witnesses to the numbers being compiled by the Chautauqua County Health Department that we all only read about.

Too many individuals, friends and neighbors here — especially at the holidays — have not been heeding the warnings to avoid gatherings and crowds, to wear facial coverings and social distance. How else do you explain the numbers? Since Nov. 30, there have been 2,605 new cases in this county through Wednesday.

We have no one to blame but ourselves.

Even if a large majority of those COVID cases are minor or asymptomatic, the other 10% — or 261 in the last 36 days — can place a tremendous burden on local hospitals and care centers. As the brunt of the illness falls to those who make caring for our residents a priority, there also is another piece of the region that could suffer if caseloads do not slow: the economy.

In a news release issued earlier this week, the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce called on community members to take personal responsibility to control the virus. “This disease is disruptive to our lives as well as our workforce and businesses, as local companies are taking extraordinary precaution to keep the disease out it is still finding its way into some facilities,” said Todd Tranum, president and chief executive officer of the chamber and executive director of the Manufacturers Association of the Southern Tier. “I think we forget the implications of not following some very basic practices that lead to the transmission of this disease. First and foremost, sickness and potentially the death of family, friends and neighbors is not something we want to carry on our conscience. Moreover, when people get sick that sickness can enter the workplace and it can bring productivity to a standstill.

“Lost productivity means economic losses and the loss of jobs. While many small businesses are hurting economically, we also have a variety of businesses that are very busy and looking for employees. Not being able to find workers is a drag on the growth of these businesses, having a shortage of employees as a result of illness, could be devastating to their economic future and a job killer. The trends we are seeing in cases is very troubling.”

A spectacular summer and warmer than normal fall must have spoiled many of us. Even state Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in designating Erie County as a yellow and orange micro-cluster in November, said Western New York “never lived the full pain of COVID’s wrath” like downstate did in March and April. His comments did not sit well with this region, but as of now there is some distressing truth serum to that frame of mind.

No person, organization or business is immune to this virus, especially in the current crisis. Nursing homes and care facilities are struggling. Some private clubs have temporarily closed their doors. Small local businesses and restaurants hang on by a thread.

This virus has likely become worse than any of us could have even imagined — and it’s adding to the stress of the front-line everyday heroes.

“The sheer number of cases in Western New York has left every Health Department overwhelmed and unable to keep up with timely, accurate tracing,” Cappa’s Facebook post concluded. “The Health Departments are having to prioritize work clusters to provide guidance with exposures in large facilities. This is not kindergarten, if you know the dodge ball hit you, you are out! There are not enough people to keep up with this tracing. It is a scary thought that it is that widespread. It is! It is scary!”

John D’Agostino is the regional editor of the OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and Times Observer in Warren, Pa. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 253.

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