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County working with area schools COVID test demands rise

The Chautauqua County Board of Health met over Zoom Thursday night. They are the first county board to return to virtual meetings due to the increase of COVID-19 cases.

The Chautauqua County Health Department is working with area schools and businesses for random COVID-19 testing.

During a meeting this week of the Chautauqua County Board of Health, Christine Schuyler, public health director and commissioner of Social Services, said there is a large demand for testing. “There’s a lot of demand at the urgent care centers and the emergency rooms for COVID testing, especially rapid testing. Most of these people are symptomatic of some symptoms of COVID-19,” she said. “We are actively working with private physician offices to enlist more of them to get testing of their own patients.”

Schuyler said they’ve been working with school superintendents on a screening testing program.

They’re also offering rapid testing for school students and personnel for symptomatic individuals.

“It’s drive-through testing opportunity by appointment for those, so we can either quickly identify if it is a COVID-19 case or you’ll get the differential that it’s not so kids, teachers and staff can get back into school faster,” she said.

Since Aug. 1, about 50% of those who test positive are unvaccinated, 7% are partially vaccinated, 14% are fully vaccinated and 30% are unknown. Schuyler said the 30% are people who won’t respond to efforts by the county Health Department to say if they’ve been vaccinated or not.

“I can tell you from speaking to some of the emergency room physicians, they say that it’s obvious from presentation without even asking who’s vaccinated and who’s not vaccinated, based on the symptoms and the severity of the illness that they’re seeing when someone presents into the emergency room,” she said. “Those who are not vaccinated are absolutely more ill and that’s the trend that being seen statewide and nationwide, demonstrating that these vaccines really do work. They work and do like they were meant to do and that is to reduce hospitalizations, serious illness and death.”

Schuyler said local and regional hospitals are “not completely overwhelmed” with COVID patients but they are seeing more younger people than in the past.

Schuyler said county officials are concerned as the weather changes and more people gather indoors. “That’s when we tend to see any communicable disease get spread around more quickly and easily, when people are in enclosed spaces with not a lot of air flow,” she said. “It’s just natural that you’re going to have more spread of a virus.”

About 49% of Chautauqua County residents have been fully vaccinated. That includes those under 12 who are unable to get the vaccine, due to their age. About 57% of eligible people have been fully vaccinated. “We’re on the way there,” said Schuyler.

Throughout the months of September and October the county will hold drive-through vaccine clinics at the Chautauqua Lake Central School bus garage every Tuesday evening. The county is also holding vaccination clinics at SUNY Fredonia and Jamestown Community College each week.

Board of Health member Dr. Elizabeth Kidder said their goal is to treat as many patients as possible to keep them out of the emergency room so ERs aren’t overburdened. “We’re seeing such a surge of sickness. We’re doing our best in the outpatient setting and save our colleagues in the in-patient setting who are absolutely exhausted,” she said.

Kidder said she is working hard to educate people about the benefits of the vaccine. “I don’t see a pathway out of this cyclical mutations cycle and kind of death cycle without getting a greater proportion vaccinated. It’s a daunting future ahead at the moment,” she said.

Health Board member Dr. Robert Burke agreed. “I have never been more pessimistic about the future of public health than I am at the moment. We are seeing the possibility of endless cycles of mutations,” he said.

Burke believes because people haven’t gotten vaccinated, the virus has mutated and become more harmful to children. “For some reason people are stuck in a paradigm that was last year and can’t understand that we’re fighting an entirely new devil that’s out there that is really dangerous, dangerous for our kids, and is going to keep going,” he said.

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