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Genesee & Orleans County Health Departments

November 4, 2021 - 11:57am

pettit_head_shot.jpgThe Centers for Disease Control’s approval of a vaccine for 5-11-year-olds provides a new weapon in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic that has buffeted society for going on two years, Genesee & Orleans Public Health Director Paul Pettit said this morning.

Pettit (pictured at right), speaking to the media via Zoom, continued to spread the word about the effectiveness of the three authorized vaccines – Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson – in helping to prevent and reducing the severity of the coronavirus.

He also touched upon this week’s CDC approval (and New York State’s acceptance) of Pfizer’s vaccine for youth in the 5 to 11 age range.

“Under emergency use authorization, it's a little bit different than the full dose Pfizer vaccine for adults,” Pettit said. “It's actually a third of the adult dose, same time period. You're going to have a dose on day one and then you'll also be given a dose 21 days later to be fully vaccinated.

“And again, it'll be two weeks after that second dose that anybody would be considered fully vaccinated. So, it's a five week period, technically, if you look at it from start to finish when you get your first dose.”

He said the one-third dose that was tested showed sufficient antibody response for kids in that age group and has been shown in the trials to be effective at preventing disease and preventing symptoms in those who may again acquire the disease after being fully vaccinated.

Pettit said the COVID-19 vaccines “have undergone the most intensive safety monitoring through the development of it in U.S. history, and vaccinating children will help prevent and protect them from getting COVID-19 and therefore reduce the risk of severe disease hospitalizations and developing long-term COVID complications.”

Children at that age can be carriers of the virus, even if they are asymptomatic, Pettit said.

“They can bring COVID back home to their loved ones, including those that may be more susceptible to severe illness, even if they are vaccinated … So, this is the next tool for us as far as moving forward.”

He said he advises parents to talk to their healthcare providers, mentioning that children – like adults – have varying medical histories.

“We're not giving medical advice here. We are talking about the vaccine and the importance and the role that it will play in protecting children,” he said. "But ultimately, every child has their unique medical history, just like we all do as adults. And we want to make sure that any parents that have any questions or concerns … to become educated, to do your research, to evaluate and look at your own individual situation with your kids and talk to your doctor.”

Pettit spoke on a variety of subjects related to COVID and the activities of the Genesee and Orleans county health departments.

GUIDANCE, RESTRICTIONS IN SCHOOLS

Weekly conference calls with school superintendents continue, Pettit said, adding that, generally speaking, schools are doing well as the health department tracks the number of cases at all districts.

“I would say on average, we're probably around 15 to 20 percent of our active cases are in school aged kids, not necessarily indicating that it's school related spread,” he said. “But these are kids that are positive. So again, that number does vary -- vary up and down.”

The state continues to require masks for everyone indoors at schools – a mandate that has been “frustrating for parents” and “controversial,” Pettit said.

“But ultimately, we have seen a significant improvement in the reduction of quarantines in students this year. And what that has allowed for is better continuity of education. Kids have been able to stay in school and continue to learn in the in-class environment, which is, you know, something that our superintendents have been very vocal about in wanting to make sure we can keep these kids in-person and keep them learning and keep that continuity.”

Pettit mentioned “test and stay” -- a program under consideration by the NYS Department of Health that would allow students testing positive for COVID to remain in school and to avoid a quarantine as long as they are tested every day.

He acknowledged many logistical and supply challenges in implementing this program.

“We are exploring this,” he said. “We're looking at our different funding streams to see if we can … put together the resources to be able to purchase the supplies to get the staffing we need to be able to carry this out.”

Responding to a question from The Batavian on whether discussions are taking place regarding the number of 5-11-year-olds receiving the vaccine and it’s effect on the masking requirement, Pettit said he has not been advised of any verification of what percentage would have to be reached.

He did, however, offer some statistics pertaining to student vaccination rates.

“In Genesee County, the 12-15 age group, we’re at 35 percent vaccinated; the 16-18 at 52.3 percent, and in Orleans County, we’re at 39.1 percent in that 12-15 bucket and 47.1 percent in the 16-18. And the 5 to 11 has just started, so I'm sure we don't have very many there yet,” he said. “But, as far as the masking, that's going to be a decision most likely that's going to be carried out at the state level, not locally.”

POSITIVITY RATES

Pettit said the positivity rates in both counties are hovering around 20 to 30 positives per day, with active cases typically around 200 to 225.

“We have noticed over the last week or two, though, there has been some regional uptick in cases,” he said. “This isn't necessarily something to be unexpected as it is getting colder out … and as we start to come indoors now, there's obviously increased exposure risk, not just the COVID, but flu and other respiratory illnesses, other viruses.”

He advised everyone to “start refreshing” some of the precautionary measures such as masking and social distancing to minimize the spread -- and to stay home if you aren't feeling well as what may be thought of as a bad cold could actually be COVID.

In Genesee County to date, there have been 7,310 positive cases, with 222 currently in isolation and 15 of those active cases in the hospital. A total of 6,459 have recovered and been removed from isolation, while, unfortunately, there have been 135 deaths, he said.

The average seven-day positivity rate in Genesee County is around 8.1 percent.

As far as vaccination rates are concerned, in Genesee County, 64.6 percent of the population has received at least one dose and 58.6 have received the completed series, he said. The highest percentage is in the 65-74 age range – 83 percent.

As far as breakthrough cases in Genesee County, Pettit said 445 of the 1,891 new cases (23.5 percent) from Aug. 1 through Nov. 1 were contracted by those who had been fully vaccinated.

BOOSTER SHOTS

Booster shots of all three vaccines are available and the ability to “mix and match” is an option, Pettit said.

“So, depending on what vaccine you may have received the first time around, if you want to try something different that has been approved and has been shown to be safe, you are able to move to a different vaccine,” he said. “Again, that's completely up to the individual.”

Parameters that govern when people can get the booster shots exist, depending upon the brand of the shot being administered, he added. That information is available on the GO Health website -- GO Health - Genesee & Orleans Public Health Departments (gohealthny.org)

Pettit said the Moderna booster is a half-dose, while Pfizer and J&J are full doses.

“The booster shots are currently recommended now, especially with the Delta variant circulating,” he said.

Third doses, which are different from boosters, have been available since late August, Pettit said, and are recommended for those with compromised immune systems.

Vaccinations are being administered by the health department on Wednesdays in Genesee County and Thursdays in Orleans County. Testing (BinaxNOW, not PCR) is done on Fridays in Genesee and on Tuesdays in Orleans.

Previously: Pettit: County health department COVID booster shot clinics to begin Wednesday; about 120 signed up

November 1, 2021 - 6:42pm

GO HealthIt’s full speed ahead for the dispensation of COVID-19 booster shots at the Genesee & Orleans Health Departments.

Public Health Director Paul Pettit, speaking at the Genesee County Legislature’s Human Services Committee meeting this afternoon, said GO Health will be conducting its first booster clinic on Wednesday of this week – offering Modern, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer doses.

For Genesee County residents, that means traveling to the health department offices at County Building 2, 3837 West Main St. Rd.

“Booster shots are open for everybody now … and we have about 120 people signed up for the morning (on Wednesday) already – and that’s all Moderna,” Pettit said. “So, that’s obviously leading to some additional demand. But most of our pharmacies are vaccinating, so people are able to go there, usually 9 (a.m.) to 9 (p.m.).”

Specifics of the three booster vaccinations, all at no charge, are as follows:

  • Moderna – 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (Registration deadline, Nov. 3; appointments are limited). Open to those 18 and older with booster eligibility, including previous full vaccination with Pfizer, Moderna, or J&J. This Moderna booster shot registration must be at least six months after receiving the second dose of Moderna or Pfizer, or at least two months after receiving a single dose of J&J.  You also must meet other eligibility requirements associated with age, work, or underlying health conditions as seen at: https://covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/booster-doses.
  • Pfizer – 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. (Registration deadline: Nov. 3; appointments are limited). Open to those 18 and older with booster eligibility, including previous full vaccination with Pfizer, Moderna or J&J. This Pfizer booster shot registration must be at least six months after receiving the second dose of Pfizer or Moderna, or at least two months after receiving a single dose of J&J.  You also must meet other eligibility requirements associated with age, work, or underlying health conditions as seen at: https://covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/booster-doses.
  • Johnson & Johnson – 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. (Registration deadline: Nov. 3; appointments are limited). Open to those 18 and older with booster eligibility, including previous full vaccination with J&J, Pfizer, or Moderna. This J&J booster shot registration must be at least two months after receiving a single dose of J&J, or at least six months after receiving the second dose of Moderna or Pfizer.  You also must meet other eligibility requirements associated with age, work, or underlying health conditions as seen at: https://covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/booster-doses.

In all cases, proof of identity and original vaccination card (or other proof of your original full vaccination) will be required at the time of your appointment.

Pettit also said he expects to hear soon, possibly tomorrow, that the childhood vaccine for 5-11-year-olds has been approved.

“We’re ramping up and preparing to do some childhood vaccines, probably starting next week, if we get the vaccine in later this week,” he said. “We're going to be running those clinics kind of late afternoon/early evening to afford parents the opportunity to get home from work and come to the clinic if they want.

“Again, the primary focus with that age group, though, is not really to come to us. We'd rather have them go to their pediatrician, where there's a little more comfort and familiarity. Obviously, for those that have gotten child vaccines at that age, sometimes (it's) a little more tricky, especially in a mass setting …"

When asked about people “mixing and matching” the booster shots, Pettit said, “It’s really the ‘Wild Wild West’ on that.”

“I guess if you want to change it up and try something different,” he said. “I'm going to stick with what I got the first time because well, frankly, Moderna is holding up the best of all three.”

Pettit suggested that people speak with their doctors about whether they should switch from what they received the first time. He acknowledged that many people have switched from J&J because that vaccine “has held up probably the least over time now against the Delta variant.”

He said that most of the breakthrough cases (people getting COVID after being vaccinated) are with the J&J vaccine.

“They (J&J) probably should have just done two shots to start with,” he said. “Their two shots basically are the same efficacy as two shots of Moderna or Pfizer. But I think they wanted to offer a simpler path.”

On related topics, Pettit offered the following:

  • Hospital bed capacity.

“As we get in the cold or flu season, you're going to get more and more people come in. I mean, obviously, what they'll (hospitals) start doing is backing off on elective surgeries and things to try to free up more bed capacity. You know, unfortunately, we're heading into the time when we get more access needs to the emergency room and bed capacities.”

  • Current COVID cases.

“Cases are holding fairly steady – we had a little bit of an uptick, I think, over the weekend, compared to where we were last few weekends. But overall, we're averaging around 25 to 30 new cases a day, and on average around 200 or more as far as active cases of folks on isolation.

“Regionally, most people saw a pretty significant increase over the weekend with active cases. So, I mean, it could be attributed to people coming indoors; things closing up – getting a little colder out. You may recall last year, actually, Halloween-ish kicked off a lot of the activity; we had low numbers pretty much through most of October. And then once we got to Halloween, gatherings and parties and things  started happening, and we started seeing an increase in numbers.”

  • Nattural immunity.

“The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) does not recognize natural antibodies for the purposes of avoiding vaccination or for avoiding quarantines, you know, unfortunately. And I think the reason for that is typically we develop antibodies for certain strains. If you have the alpha variant, it may be less effective versus new strains but still affords protection similar to the vaccines, especially in preventing severity of illness.  

“There's a lot of debate over natural immunity versus the vaccines … it's kind of a controversial thing, because, you know, I think it's debatable, one way or the other … I think they've shown -- that the data shows -- that the vaccines provide better protection than natural immunity in this case with COVID, just due to the new variant, especially so. But if you had the Delta variant, I mean, you have immunity from it."

  • New vaccine technology.

“I think this is really when you look at the way they were able to produce this vaccine so quickly. I mean, it's really due to the technology. And I mean, there's a lot of talk now to start using the mRNA approach for flu vaccines and other things. You know, if you think about the window, when they make a flu vaccine, you're looking at what was circulating over in Asia and China -- like coming off in January, February. I mean, they can wait now until April or May, and get the mutations in there, and they can produce a vaccine in a month or a couple months, You're going to get a better efficacy out of that vaccine.”

December 31, 2020 - 2:34pm

With the start of a new year less than 10 hours away, it certainly would be nice if the world could just turn the page and put 2020 – a year marked by a global pandemic known as COVID-19 – in the rearview mirror.

Unfortunately, however, the challenges and stress caused by the coronavirus will continue for at least several more months and words such as quarantine, contact tracing, asymptomatic testing and vaccine will continue to be part of our everyday vocabulary.

Earlier today, Paul Pettit, public health director for Genesee and Orleans counties, with support from Genesee County Manager Matt Landers and Legislative Chair Rochelle Stein, updated the media on the latest developments and statistics via Zoom videoconferencing.

Pettit touched upon all the buzzwords mentioned above, as well as addressing what could be a new and even bigger problem – an apparently more contagious variety of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) that is spreading throughout the United Kingdom and has been identified in California and Colorado.

“About the strain, what we do know is that it is a lot more infectious, so it spreads a lot easier, which is the concerning part,” Pettit said, responding to a question from The Batavian seeking to know if local health officials have the capacity to test for the variant mutation of the virus. “But what we do know is that it is not any more aggressive or severe – it appears anyways – than the strain that we have been dealing with locally, but that again could change as time goes on.”

Pettit said not much is known about the new strain, but worries that due to the higher level of infectiousness, more people could get sicker at a quicker rate.

New Strain Could Overload Hospitals

“That again is a concern with higher positivity rates and mainly with the stress on our health care system,” he said. “If we have more folks getting infected, specifically more at-risk folks that will be infected, (that will) put a strain on our bed capacity and the ability to deal with those folks who need a higher level of care … and that could lead to a quicker overwhelming of our medical system.”

Pettit said the new strain has not been identified in New York, but "it being in California and Colorado, it's more than likely -- it's just a matter of time before it is identified (in New York)."

"It is being tested for out of Wadsworth (a state facility), so the state lab is looking for this variant," he said. "The 3,000 or 4,000 tests that they've run or analyzed has not shown it yet. We do not have the local ability to look for it in our rapid testing, but we did reach out to Wadsworth to see if they would like us to be part of a sentinel process where we can send them -- or make sure they get samples from around here to test for that variant."

Pettit also talked about the Moderna vaccine – a two-step process that is said to be about 95-percent effective against the virus – and outlined the pecking order, so to speak, of those who will receive it.

Again, responding to a question from The Batavian regarding who comprises the 1B group, which follows the 1A group of healthcare personnel, Pettit said he wasn’t sure beyond “certain essential workers” such as law enforcement and firefighters.

“We have a general idea … but the state has not really fleshed out the details of the 1B group … they want us to focus on (vaccinating) the 1A group,” he said, previously mentioning that the 1B group in Genesee County is estimated at around 13,000 people and in Orleans County at around 9,000 people.

After that, there is a 1C group (with close to the same numbers) and then “bucket 2” or the general public, he said.

Pettit mentioned the procedural challenges once it’s time to vaccinate those in 1B (hopefully in late January) because those in the 1A group likely will be ready for their second shot.

“We need to make sure we're giving that second shot at that four-week mark while trying to vaccinate new people in the 1B group. So, this is where it gets into the complexity and logistical challenges of this vaccination campaign,” he said.

Volunteers Play Key Role in the Process

When asked about utilizing volunteers from the community – namely the Medical Reserve Corps in Genesee and Orleans counties – Pettit said he is open to enlisting as many people willing to help in the testing and vaccination process as possible. Currently, many citizens have stepped up on an individual basis to support the cause, he noted.

“We actually have had one (a Medical Reserve Corps) in Orleans County for many years now and the Genesee County Legislature approved expanding the Orleans County one into Genesee about a year and a half ago,” he said. “Medical Reserve Corps do have an important role to play in medical emergencies.”

Pettit admitted that the local MRS is not “overly robust and populated” but mentioned that Serve New York is the statewide program by which those – especially healthcare workers – can sign up to help out.

“As we need volunteers, we can call up and activate those members who are part of Serve New York,” he said. “They are automatically adopted into our Medical Reserve Corps … and we will be utilizing folks through Serve New York.”

He said that he is hopeful that by the time the campaign is over in “three, four, six months, we’ll have about 200 to 300 people in our Medical Reserve Corps because once we have them captive, we’re going to keep them.”

Other new information shared during the 50-minute presentation:

Current Statistics

Genesee County: 2,374 positive cases; 65,126 negative; 173 active cases in isolation; 489 in quarantine; 29 deaths; 1,854 have recovered, which means they have cleared the 10-day isolation period.

Orleans County: 1,342 positive cases; 34,209 negative; 195 active cases in isolation; 601 in quarantine; 61 deaths (mostly from long-term care facilities last spring); 914 recovered, which means they have cleared the 10-day isolation period.

Regionally (Finger Lakes): The Genesee County seven-day positivity rate is 11.2 percent and 14-day is 11.5 percent. The Orleans County seven-day positivity rate is 9.1 percent and 14-day is 8.4 percent.

Genesee County is higher than most of the region but is leveling off, Pettit said, adding that it could qualify for Yellow, Orange or even Red Zone status, but that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is “pivoting away” from micro-cluster analysis to focus on hospitalization rates.

Vaccination

Pettit said the University of Rochester Medical Center is the “hub” that oversees COVID vaccination in the Finger Lakes Region but that he is part of the task force that will help ensure equitable allocation of the vaccine.

“This is unlike anything we’ve ever seen in New York State,” he said. “The vaccine is flowing – coming in slowly – and we’ll get it to residents as quickly as we can.”

The first group of people – the 1A group – is being vaccinated, with 284 staff members at United Memorial Medical Center already receiving the initial dose.

He said the vaccine is not available to the general public yet and that aspect is under the control of New York State. He noted that those who try to circumvent the system are subject to revocation of their medical license and fines of up to $1 million.

Pettit revealed the number of people who qualify for the vaccine in each of the groups as follows:

Group 1A – 4,892 in Genesee County; 3,421 in Orleans County;

Group 1B – 13,000 in Genesee County; 9,000 in Orleans County;

Group 1C – 13,000 in Genesee County; 9,500 in Orleans County;

Bucket 2 – General public.

Pettit also said that testing will continue in both counties – on Tuesday and Thursday in Genesee and on Wednesday in Orleans – and that contract tracing, while “difficult and challenging,” also is ongoing, but is in the hands of state authorities after contacts are made by local health officials -- a fact emphasized by Stein as she opened the media briefing.

Stein: Stay Safe & Support Local Business

"Genesee County does the initial investigation on positive cases and identifies those who are positive," she said. "The process usually takes 24 hours of receiving a test result."

She said after that state contact tracers handle the cases and that is where the delay comes in -- sometime four to six days.

Stein asked residents to be patient with this process before encouraging them to support local businesses, especially restaurants, while continuing to follow the safety protocols.

Pettit also said the state has changed the 14-day quarantine period to 10 days to line up with Center for Disease Control guidelines.

When asked if the data provides any sense of hope, Pettit said the “hope is the vaccine.”

“Getting folks vaccinated, getting them protected – the most vulnerable. The nursing homes, seniors, those with underlying health conditions – that’s really where we need to focus right now,” he responded. “As we start to get them vaccinated and protected, I think that is going to put us in a whole different position as we start to move forward with risk and exposure potential, which I think is going to move us hopefully to where we need to be.”

November 30, 2020 - 5:46pm

The number of COVID-19 cases in Genesee County has reached a new plateau, the county’s public health director reported this afternoon.

Speaking at the Genesee County Legislature’s Human Services Committee meeting via Zoom videoconferencing, Paul Pettit said positive cases in the month of November have pushed the total to more than 1,000 since the outbreak of the pandemic.

“Today, unfortunately, we will be announcing that we crossed over that thousand number threshold of positive cases since the beginning,” Pettit said, adding that about 500 or 600 have come during this month.

Pettit said the health department’s message of social distancing, smaller gathering and wearing a mask is as important as ever.

“We all know people who have had it and some people with more severe cases, too. So, again, it’s a little more troubling of a trend that we’re trying to keep an eye on and do our best to keep educating and hope people will adhere to the advice,” he said.

He also reported on the number of Genesee County residents who are hospitalized at this time with COVID-19.

“I think we have 12 people right now that are hospitalized as Genesee County residents, but they’re not necessarily in Genesee County -- they may be in Rochester or Buffalo hospitals,” he said, noting that a dozen hospitalizations translate to about 8 percent of the 130 to 140 active cases.

“Obviously, we went through a period where we didn’t have anybody in the hospital. Once someone gets hospitalized, they’re obviously having enough issues – breathing or some other secondary issue that they can’t manage at home.”

Pettit said the county averaged about 35 cases per day over the holiday break, which is equivalent to 425 to 450 in Monroe County. He said the numbers are “fairly high” and they could jump significantly if the “potential Thanksgiving bump that has been predicted” transpires.

“We should know by the end of the week into early next week if we’re going to have a lot of additional cases stemming from the holiday gatherings. We’ll be watching that closely,” he said.

He also said the heath department is working on a plan for rapid asymptomatic testing, as well as a strategy to deliver vaccine that will be arriving in the next week or two.

“I don’t expect to see a lot of it (vaccine) on the front end; it will be very targeted toward our highest-risk folks,” he advised.

Overall, Genesee County’s numbers are some of the highest in the Finger Lakes Region, Pettit said.

“We’re working hard trying to get those down and, again, a lot of that is going to come down to personal behavior – wearing masks and reducing density and mass gatherings,” he said.

As far as staffing, Pettit said the health department has added two employees and another will be starting soon.

"These are full-time temporary positions that have been created over the last month (with legislature approval) to assist with COVID response activities, and they 100-percent funded by a COVID grant," Pettit said. "These positions will help with case investigations, contact tracing, data entry and phone calls. We have hired an individual for the COVID specialist position, starting later this week, and will be interviewing this week for the financial clerk position."

In a related development, the committee recommended approval of a resolution to accept a $13,566 grant from the state Department of Health to support flu and COVID-19 response activities, with Pettit advising that a large portion of the funding will be used to cover employees' overtime.

The award, good through June 30, will be added to the health department's 2021 budget by another resolution in January, Pettit said.

November 12, 2020 - 9:19am

task_force_-_community_star_award_1.jpg

When it comes to commitment and dedication to battling opioid addiction in rural areas, the Genesee-Orleans-Wyoming Opioid Task Force shines brightly.

That’s the viewpoint of the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health, which has awarded the local collaborative organization with a 2020 Community Star.

The award is given to only one rural entity in New York State.

“We are deeply honored to be recognized by the NOSORH,” said Christen Ferraro, GOW Opioid Task Force project coordinator. “It is a tribute to the efforts of the hundreds of people in the tri-county area who volunteer their time and work together to help end opioid addiction and overdose.”

The honor is being presented in conjunction with National Rural Health Day on Nov. 19, according to the NOSORH.

Ferraro said an e-book publication featuring the GOW Opioid Task Force’s story, along with the other winners, will be released on that date on the NRHD website. The link to the story also will be posted on the GOW Opioid Task Force website – www.gowopioidtaskforce.org – and on its Facebook page.

The NOSORH singled out the local outreach for its flexibility in delivering key services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the pandemic hit Western New York, the task force shifted its education efforts online. Virtual Narcan trainings were held and kits were mailed to participants. Since these online trainings began, more than 150 community members have been trained, and for 2020, more than 300 have received this training.

“We knew we had to make adjustments so our community could continue to have access to these needed resources," Ferraro said. “The positive response we received from the community was overwhelming, and we definitely plan to utilize this new way of education to help continue supporting our rural community in these difficult times.”

The task force, which is supported by the Greater Rochester Health Foundation and Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, currently has more than 400 members from across the tri-county region.

Members represent various sectors of the community, including public health, mental health, human services, local government, substance use disorder treatment and recovery agencies, law enforcement, EMS, faith-based groups, health systems and medical practitioners, education, businesses, concerned individuals, families, and individuals in recovery.

The NOSORH founded National Rural Health Day as a way to showcase rural America, increase awareness of rural health-related challenges and promote the efforts of NOSORH, State Offices of Rural Health and others in addressing those challenges, said Teryl Eisinger, the agency’s chief executive officer.

An estimated 57 million people – nearly one in five Americans – live in rural and frontier communities throughout the United States.

 “These small towns, farming communities and frontier areas are wonderful places to live and work; they are places where neighbors know each other and work together,” Eisinger said. “The hospitals and providers serving these rural communities not only provide quality patient care, but they also help keep good jobs in rural America.”

These communities also face unique healthcare needs.

“Today more than ever, rural communities must tackle accessibility issues, a lack of healthcare providers, the needs of an aging population suffering from a greater number of chronic conditions, and larger percentages of un- and underinsured citizens,” she said. “Meanwhile, rural hospitals are threatened with declining reimbursement rates and disproportionate funding levels that makes it challenging to serve their residents.”

All 50 states maintain a State Office of Rural Health, each of which shares a similar mission to foster relationships, disseminate information and provide technical assistance that improves access to, and the quality of, health care for its rural citizens.

Photo: The GOW Opioid Task Force has been honored with the 2020 Community Star from the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health. From left are Charlotte Crawford, chief executive officer, Lake Plains Community Care Network; Julie Gutowski, vice president of Clinical Operations and Services, Spectrum Health & Human Services; John Bennett, executive director of Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse; Christen Ferraro, task force project coordinator, and Paul Pettit, public health director for Genesee/Orleans County Health Departments.

Disclosure: Story by Mike Pettinella, GCASA publicist.

November 3, 2020 - 6:59am

Paul Pettit, public health director for Genesee and Orleans counties, is determined to look beyond the rumors and posturing to make sure his department is ready when federal and state governments roll out the first phase of a COVID-19 vaccine.

“There’s a lot of chatter out there … locally, we’ll have our plan ready,” Pettit said on Monday afternoon as he advised the Genesee County Legislature’s Human Services Committee of the importance of three resolutions pertaining to the health department’s readiness to administer a vaccine.

The first resolution renews the county’s agreement with Genesee Community College to use the campus – at no charge -- as a Point of Dispensing Clinic during an emergency for the period of Jan. 1, 2021 through Dec. 31, 2023.

Pettit said GCC (possibly the new athletic facility) is an ideal site for distributing the vaccine, which he said likely will be made available in phases – first to elder care facilities such as nursing homes and then to healthier adults and children.

He mentioned that there could be up to 30 million doses by the end of the year, but didn’t know how many the county would get, speculating maybe 50 to 100 doses of the initial outlay. He noted that as the number of public vaccinations increase, private providers and pharmacies would be enlisted to support the health department’s efforts.

For smaller clinics, Pettit said the county already has the use of the fairgrounds and County Building II.

Pettit also responded to Legislator John Deleo’s comments about New York State wanting to review any federally approved vaccine before allowing it to be dispensed to its residents and about talk that the proposed vaccines are not sufficient for minorities.

That’s when he said he and his staff are focused not on the “chatter” but on making sure they are prepared when the time comes.

A second resolution was an agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for the CDC to provide vaccine to the Genesee County Health Department at no cost to the county.

“This is the first step for us to receive the vaccine when it becomes available,” Pettit said, adding that he hasn’t heard of any vaccines that have cleared phase three of their trials yet.

A third resolution was a request to create a full-time COVID-19 Response Specialist, a Civil Service position, effective Nov. 12, 2020. The position would be funded by COVID-19 monies until June 30, 2022, at no cost to the county.

Pettit said coronavirus funding previously created one job and now the department needs this one, borrowing the title from a similar position in Wyoming County.

He said he wasn’t sure of the pay rate, thinking it was around $17 to $18 per hour, and noted that the job is tied to Orleans County and could lead to a full-time position.

Responsibilities of the Response Specialist would be to assist with contact tracing, testing and – eventually – vaccination. Pettit said the county continues to utilize the services of contact tracers employed by the state.

The Human Services Committee approved all three resolutions, which now will be forwarded to the Ways & Means Committee on Wednesday.

In a related development, the committee approved a contract renewal with Mary Younge of Rochester to provide nursing services on an as-needed basis for 2021. Pettit said Younge provided support to the county at the outset of the coronavirus outbreak in March, April and May.

October 19, 2020 - 10:40am

Press release:

The GOW Opioid Task Force, in conjunction with the Genesee & Orleans County Health Departments, has released a new “Linkage to Care” online application to help citizens connect with support centers for opioid rehabilitation and training in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties.

“We are pleased to be a part of the development of this valuable application,” said Paul Pettit, director of the Genesee & Orleans County Health Departments (GO Health). “Our region has been working collaboratively over the last several years to provide resources and access to services for those who are struggling with substance use issues.”

Pettit said the app provides locations and contact information for the GOW Opioid Task Force region’s programs and local services that are available in a user-friendly platform to access anytime on a person’s smart phone.

Brenden Bedard, director of Community Health Services for GO Health, encouraged those who are having issues with drug use and addiction and/or their family members to utilize the services provided on the informational app.

“This is a much-needed tool to find services, but, of course, if there is a life-threatening emergency or crisis, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency department for assistance,” he advised.

GOW Opioid Task Force coordinator Christen Ferraro said the group is “committed to finding new ways to make it easier for our residents to tap into community resources.”

Ferraro said the app includes a variety of services in the tri-county area, which can all be found in one place with just one click.

“This truly is a simple way to find help for those that may be struggling,” she said.

The app provides links to 24-hour assistance call lines, detox services, the PAARI (Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative) Program, Naloxone (Narcan) training, self-help meetings, medication and sharps drop box locations, as well as inpatient and outpatient services in the three counties.

Ferraro noted that the app is now live and free to download, and can be found at both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. To access and download it, search “GOW Opioid Linkage to Care App.”

October 16, 2020 - 5:13pm

New York State’s allocation of 400,000 COVID-19 testing kits provides a much-awaited boost to municipalities, but still doesn’t answer the question of who will be responsible for administering these tests to students and others in need of rapid coronavirus laboratory analysis.

A pair of executive directors of state organizations issued a joint statement to that effect earlier this week, and their thoughts were supported today by Paul Pettit, director of the Genesee & Orleans County Health Departments.

Sarah Ravenhall, executive director of the New York State Association of County Health Officials, and Stephen J. Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties, applauded the distribution of the testing kits, calling it “a welcome step toward the goal of implementing a robust and successful school testing program in counties implementing the state’s Cluster Action Initiative.”

But the availability of these materials isn’t enough, they said, posing the unresolved question: “Who will provide the staff and resources necessary to administer the tests?”

Their statement asserted that many county health departments have numerous school districts in their jurisdictions and not enough licensed and trained staff to handle the workload.

“Test kits are just one part of a much larger array of essential resources that must be deployed to make this work,” they said. “Additionally, we have significant concerns about the capacity of our communities to implement this plan. Local health departments have been working in concert with community-based organizations since the pandemic began, and many of these organizations are at, or even beyond, full capacity.”

Pettit said he agrees with “the essence of the press release … as we are encouraged by the long overdue movement to provide rapid testing in our counties. As we have been sharing since the beginning of COVID in our communities, we have lacked adequate and affordable/free testing for our residents.”

The provision of these machines and kits solves part of the problem, Pettit said, “but leaves many unanswered questions around the capacity and ancillary support to provide them.”

“We again find ourselves with new testing requirements pushed upon us (20 percent of the school population testing if in a 'yellow zone’) without a full understanding of the details of the new requirements and a lack of support and capacity to meet them,” he said. “We have reached out to our community partners and health care providers to discuss the best approach to receiving and implementing a county testing program that will provide the free access points that we’ve been seeking.”

Pettit added that his agency is talking with school officials about coronavirus testing requirements.

“Ultimately, our goal is to have this free rapid testing available from many locations for county residents who need testing for any variety of reasons, including school-based symptom screening, state required testing to visit long-term care facilities, and symptomatic individuals.”

Ravenhall and Acquario are calling upon the state to provide financial support to carry out its directive.

“We cannot rely on local partnerships alone to meet our needs,” they stated. “Any plan to implement robust testing in our schools must include adequate state resources -- and withholding funds from localities will only make this monumental task even more difficult.”

Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that schools in the state’s precautionary “yellow zones” will receive the rapid testing kits, with the 400,000 kits being the first batch.

Starting today, “yellow zone” schools must test a fifth of the student population, staff members and teachers on weekly basis. Schools in “orange” and “red” zones are required to teach students through remote learning only. Currently, none of the schools in Genesee and Orleans counties are in any of the aforementioned zones, Pettit said.

April 24, 2020 - 12:55pm

From the Genesee & Orleans County Health Departmenta:

Deer ticks live in shady, moist areas at ground level. They will cling to tall grass, brush and shrubs, usually no more than 18-24 inches off the ground. They also live in lawns and gardens, especially at the edges of woods and around old stone walls.

Deer ticks cannot jump or fly, and do not drop onto passing people or animals. They get on humans and animals only by direct contact. Once a tick gets on the skin, it generally climbs upward until it reaches a protected area.

“It’s important for you and your family to learn how to prevent a bite, how to remove a tick, and what to do if you think you could have a tick-borne disease,” said Sarah Balduf, Environmental director for the Genesee & Orleans County Health Departments.

In tick-infested areas, your best protection is to avoid contact with soil, leaf litter and vegetation.

“As we continue to balance the implications of COVID-19 and working to enjoy outdoor activities, remember to follow Governor Cuomo’s 10-point New York State on PAUSE Plan, including that individuals should limit outdoor recreational activities to non-contact and avoid activities where they come in close contact with other people,” said Paul Pettit, director for the Genesee & Orleans County Health Departments.

For more information about the New York State on PAUSE Plan click here.

However, if you garden, hike, camp, hunt, work, or otherwise spend time in the outdoors and maintain appropriate social distancing, you can still protect yourself:

  • Wear light-colored clothing with a tight weave to spot ticks easily.
  • Wear enclosed shoes, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Tuck pant legs into socks or boots and shirt into pants.
  • Check clothes and any exposed skin frequently for ticks while outdoors.
  • Consider using insect repellent.
  • Stay on cleared, well-traveled trails. Walk in the center of trails. Avoid dense woods and bushy areas.
  • Avoid sitting directly on the ground or on stone walls.
  • Keep long hair tied back, especially when gardening.
  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after going indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that may be on you.
  • Do a final, full-body tick check at the end of the day (also check children and pets), and remove ticks promptly.

What About Insect Repellent?

Consider using insect repellents registered with the Environmental Protection Agency:

  • DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) can be applied to exposed skin. Products that contain 20 percent or more DEET can provide protection that lasts up to several hours. Use the lowest concentration of DEET that you will need for the length of time you will be outdoors.
  • Picaridin is a colorless, nearly odorless ingredient that can be applied to exposed skin in a range of 5 to 20 percent of the active ingredient.
  • Permethrin: Clothes, shoes and camping gear can be treated or purchased pretreated with permethrin. Its protection can last through many washes.Neverapply permethrin to skin. The New York State Health Department recommends taking these precautions when using repellents that contain these active ingredients:
  • Store out of the reach of children and read all instructions on the label before applying.
  • Do NOT allow children to apply repellents themselves.

What Can I Do To Reduce Ticks In My Yard?

  • Keep lawns mowed and edges trimmed.
  • Clear brush, leaf litter and tall grass around the house, and at the edges of gardens and stone walls.
  • Stack woodpiles neatly away from the house and preferably off the ground.
  • In the fall, clear all leaf and garden litter, where ticks can live in the winter, out of your yard.
  • Keep the ground under bird feeders clean so as not to attract small animals that can carry ticks into your yard.
  • Locate children’s swing sets and other play equipment in sunny, dry areas of the yard, away from the woods where ticks can be abundant. For more information on Lyme disease, contact your local health department or refer to the NYS Department of Health website.

Also Consider These Important Facts:

  • If you tuck pants into socks and shirts into pants, be aware that ticks will climb upward to hidden areas of the head and neck, so spot-check clothes frequently.
  • Clothes can be sprayed with DEET or treated with permethrin. Follow label instructions carefully.
  • Upon returning home, clothes can be put in a high temperature dryer for 20 minutes to kill any unseen ticks.
  • Any contact with vegetation, even playing in the yard, can result in exposure to ticks. Frequent tick checks should be followed by a whole-body examination and tick removal each night. This is the single most effective method for prevention of Lyme disease.

How Can I Safely Remove a Tick?

If you DO find a tick attached to your skin, do not panic. Not all ticks are infected, and your risk of Lyme disease is greatly reduced if the tick is removed within the first 36 hours. To remove a tick:

  • Use a pair of pointed tweezers to grasp the tick by the head or mouth parts right where they enter the skin. DO NOT grasp the tick by the body.
  • Pull firmly and steadily outward. DO NOT jerk or twist the tick.
  • Place the tick in a small container of rubbing alcohol to kill it.
  • Clean the bite wound with rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide.
  • Monitor the site of the bite for the next 30 days for the appearance of a rash. If you develop a rash or flu-like symptoms, contact your health care provider immediately. Although not routinely recommended, taking antibiotics within three days after a tick bite may be beneficial for some persons. This would apply to deer tick bites that occurred in areas where Lyme disease is common and there is evidence that the tick fed for more than one day. In cases like this you should discuss the possibilities with your doctor or health care provider.

For information on Health Department services in Genesee County contact:

  • Genesee County Health Department at: 344-2580, ext. 5555, or visit their website.
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