Calling the COVID-19 pandemic an “unprecedented and rapidly evolving event,” the public health director of the Genesee and Orleans County Health Departments this afternoon reported that while there are no confirmed cases of the virus in either county, local officials are ramping up efforts to gather testing kits and to set up drive-thru screening sites.
Speaking at a media briefing at the Old County Courthouse in Batavia, Paul A. Pettit (inset photo below, left) said seven people in Genesee County are under a “precautionary” quarantine and three people in Orleans County are under “mandatory” quarantine – steps that are taken to monitor their conditions over a 14-day period and to make sure they do not get symptoms associated with the virus, such as fever, cough and shortness of breath.
“This is an unprecedented event and were responding as it has been evolving,” Pettit said, as he was joined by several other county officials during the 40-minute session. “Our public health staff has been working around the clock … with the goal for our residents to make sound, wise choices. The brainpower in this room is well situated to hand this storm together.”
Pettit said that contrary to rumors, no one in the two counties has come down with the virus – which he said has a fatality rate 10 times that of influenza – but that his department will be notified by hospitals should that occur. He also pointed residents to go to the health department’s website for accurate information.
He admitted that the health department currently has no “swabbing kits” for testing – “we’re working to get some,” he said – but they are available in the community (through primary care providers, for example).
Officials in both Genesee and Orleans have declared states of emergency, which will extend for a minimum of 30 days, Pettit said, and “have moved forward with the closing down of schools.”
He also mentioned Gov. Cuomo’s directive that restaurants, bars, casinos and other social and recreational venues would be required to close after 8 o'clock tonight, advising consumers that restaurants will be offering carry-out and take-out options.
Regarding testing for the virus, Pettit said that county leaders are looking to set up drive-through sites (specific locations have yet to be identified) to screen “the most vulnerable – seniors and those with immune-compromised health issues.”
“If you’re sick, stay home; that’s the best thing you can do,” he said. “Wash your hands frequently and (practice) social distancing. It is best to implement this before we have a case. Spread out and practice social distancing – even if it seems extreme and unnecessary. There’s no doubt in my mind that we can weather this thing together.”
Responding to a question about the difference between COVID-19 and the flu, Pettit said that it hits seniors and “compromised” folks very hard.
“The hardest hitting was in the Wuhan province (China) where 3 to 5 percent was the death rate,” he said. “That makes us nervous on the public health side.”
Pettit also said the virus can stay in the air for three hours and said it was important to wipe down countertops and door knobs as it can linger on surfaces for quite some time.
“We need to flatten the curve,” he said. “We want to push out the number of cases and slow it down” so it doesn’t overwhelm the health care system.
Tim Yaeger, coordinator of the Genesee County Office of Emergency Management Services, said that his agency along with the Orleans County office, will be supporting the health care system as “services need to be maintained.”
“You may see tempered responses,” he said, advising people to use the 9-1-1 system only if it’s a true emergency.
Genesee County Clerk Michael Cianfrini said he is putting measures in place to limit the number of people looking to complete transactions at the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Batavia.
“We’re very short-staffed as it is, with only two cashiers and one trainee,” he said, “and we had lines out the doors, which goes against all advice we have said regarding social distancing and it exposes our staff.”
Cianfrini said as of tomorrow, less than 10 people will be allowed in the DMV lobby at one time – the overflow will have to wait outside – and that a sheriff’s deputy will be there to monitor the situation.
“Unless it is absolutely necessary, don’t come into the office,” he said. “My main concern is the safety and health of my staff.”
Batavia City Manager Martin Moore said the City Clerk’s office will be “closed (for walk-ins) for the foreseeable future” and advised people to use the telephone or go online.
“Most people are very good and are stepping up, but a few have been coughing and hacking,” he said. “So out of caution for the employees, the door will be locked if you try to come in that door.”
He also said the protocol will be modified for those attempting to enter the police station and that Falleti Ice Arena will be closing today, also for the foreseeable future.
Genesee County Manager Jay Gsell said that although Genesee County Park in Bethany and the DeWitt Recreation Area in Batavia will be closed, he and his staff are committed to maintaining the county workforce’s “semblance of continuity going forward.”
Gsell said press updates will take place at 4 p.m. at the Old County Courthouse from Monday through Friday until circumstances warrant otherwise.
For more about the COVID-19 pandemic, call 1-888-364-3065 (NYS hotline). Those experiencing anxiety or mental health issues due to the crisis are advised to call 585-283-5200.
Top photo -- Genesee County Sheriff William Sheron, County Clerk Michael Cianfrini, City Manager Martin Moore, County Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein, Public Health Director Paul Pettit, Orleans County Emergency Management Director Dale Banker, Genesee County Emergency Management Coordinator Tim Yaeger. Photos by Mike Pettinella.