County staying proactive during crisis
Commentary: Addressing the coronavirus
Each day, COVID-19 appears in more counties, more communities across New York. It is inevitable that the virus will appear in Chautauqua County, although at this point, there are no confirmed cases.
We are monitoring several individuals and waiting for test results. Because of community spread in nearby areas, I am assuming that the novel coronavirus is circulating in Chautauqua County. The most important way to reduce spread is not by getting tested, it is by abiding by community mitigations strategies and practicing good respiratory hygiene.
To prepare for this eventuality, last week I assembled a COVID-19 Response Team comprised of doctors, county health officials and emergency managers. We meet daily, seven days a week, sharing the best and latest information, which we then share with the public, hospitals and medical offices.
Additionally, we have reached out to communities of faith, civic organizations and businesses to start conversations about how they can respond with unified purpose and voice. We are making strong connections now to ensure these meetings will be recurring and the participants will continue to help each other through the conclusion of this emergency — even beyond.
Our most important message for the public at this point is that we need your help in supporting social distancing and hygiene measures, which are urgent and necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19. We understand and are sympathetic that these precautions present immediate impact to the normal lives of all residents, businesses and government service, but they are absolutely necessary.
Places around the world, that have adopted strong social distancing measures, have curbed the pace of new infections. Where those measures are lacking or ignored, cases have surged.
≤ Here’s what we know: We need to “flatten the curve.” This means delaying the infection rate of the disease to prevent a spike in cases that would overwhelm our medical capacity even on an expanded emergency footing.
Most people who contract coronavirus — about eight in 10 — will experience mild symptoms, but during that time you could pass the virus on to others. Our area hospitals do not have the capacity to treat the remaining 20 percent of patients who may need acute care.
Fortunately, keeping the infection rate in check relies on a few simple things we can do. Our ultimate success in preventing a catastrophe will depend on each of us taking responsibility for these basic actions.
We all need to wash our hands frequently throughout the day, for at least 20 seconds each time; avoid touching your face; avoid close contact with others (keep a distance of 6 feet); avoid sharing personal items. Cover your cough and sneezes. Work from home if you can. Clean all surfaces that are touched often.
If you are sick, stay home away from other people and monitor your symptoms. Get rest and stay hydrated.
If you are a civic leader: Support protective social distancing actions. Use your voice to encourage people in your community to take responsible steps to stop the spread of COVID-19 among your neighbors.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo took unprecedented actions to stop the spread of this disease by limiting public gatherings, restricting restaurants to take out and delivery service, and limiting the non-essential workforce. Every one of us must help. We all have the power to stop COVID-19 and save the lives of people we care about.
≤ Testing: We know many people are anxious to be tested for COVID-19. The reality is that hospitals, physician’s offices, and labs across the state have received only limited testing supplies. Because of this national shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), collection swabs, and viral transport media supplies, it is critical that laboratory testing be prioritized for the most at-risk and hospitalized patients.
Locally, we have recommended that health care providers save the limited testing resources in Chautauqua County for the sickest people and the people who are most at-risk. Persons with mild to moderate COVID-like symptoms not requiring hospitalization are to be instructed to stay home and call their health care provider for advice. This is safer for patients and health care workers. Testing does not currently change clinical treatment or recommendations about staying home.
We will keep the public informed of updates as quickly as possible.
Talk to your health care provider before you visit a clinic or hospital emergency department. It’s critical for all of us to make sure hospitals are seeing only those people who need hospital care.
≤ The good news? Just like you, we don’t like all this doom and gloom and uncertainty, so we will share a couple of things we find comforting.
There are ways to help in addition to the preventative measures you should be taking. Various community organizations are actively helping during the pandemic and need volunteers. Check in with your family and neighbors to see if you can assist them.
The blood supply at our local hospitals has been threatened by the pandemic. If you are healthy and eligible, it is safe to donate blood! If you are able, there are several blood drives happening in the area. Do an internet search for blood drives in Chautauqua County for a site near you.
Earlier this week, China reported no new locally transmitted coronavirus cases. We have faith that this emergency has an end.
COVID-19 is not a “super-bug.” Although serious and infectious, the virus can be halted by the social distancing and hygiene measures you’ve been hearing about for some time from us and other authorities.
We are all in this together
Thanks for all you do and the sacrifices we know you are making for the health of our community. We are proud of our work, the efforts you are making, and the collective character this challenge draws. There is no other county we would rather be serving. #CHQStrong
PJ Wendel is Chautauqua County executive and Christine Schuyler is director of Health and Human Services for the county.