If you have been confused or concerned by the flurry of shifting, revised, questioned and debated pieces of information out there for dealing with COVID-19, one solution is pointing straight at you.
Do your research, talk to your own healthcare provider and self-report when diagnosed with the virus, says Paul Pettit, director of Genesee and Orleans County Health Departments.
“Any time you have conflicting messages out there it does create confusion … who should they be listening to and why. We want people to be informed. It’s ok for people to question things, we want them to get the most factual information and make a decision based on that. Ultimately, everybody’s individual health care should be discussed with their doctor,” Pettit said during a livestream interview Monday with The Batavian.
Pettit suggests that people check out the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and their own state and county health departments to make informed decisions. He’s not forcing any one answer on people, but asking that they acquire factual knowledge before making decisions about how to deal with COVID-19.
Omicron, the latest — and apparently greatest variant in terms of infectious ability — may account for 85 to 90 percent of all positive cases in rural areas, Pettit said. There have been some 500 cases diagnosed locally just this past weekend alone, he said. Due to the quickly climbing numbers, the health department is changing the way it has handled contact tracing; it will be more of an individual responsibility for those 19 to 64 years of age, he said.
“It has to do with the extreme spread across the state. We just cannot keep up with the isolation and quarantine,” he said. “We’re trying to triage a response. We can’t get to all these contacts, we’re trying to use our resources the best we can.”
As of Monday, the system will depend on people who have tested positive for COVID-19 or have had close contact with someone who already tested positive, to self-report online. Go to www.GOHealthNY.org and choose the red COVID-19 Isolation & Quarantine Information button to be directed to the isolation and quarantine documents. For those who have tested positive for COVID-19, you will be contacted by NYS via email or text. Once you are notified of your positive results by the lab or NYS, immediately self-isolate and notify your close contacts of their potential exposure. For those that test positive in the 19-64 age group, follow the general directions that NYS provides for isolation and quarantine and contact your healthcare provider for medical advice.
For those in schools or congregate settings who are under the age of 18 and over the age of 64, contact tracing will continue as capacity allows, he said.
Although the omicron variant is highly infectious and has caused breakthrough cases for a lot of vaccinated people, there is an upside, Pettit said.
“The good news is that it’s not as severe,” he said.
More cases and less severe does not mean ignoring a diagnosis. People should still heed the five-day isolation rule when their lab result is positive, he said. He has heard from many people that they have symptoms resembling a cold or mild flu, and are also known to the omicron variant: coughing, fatigue, a scratchy throat. He tells them all the same thing.
“The only way to verify (that it’s COVID-19) is to have a test,” he said. “Don’t go to work that day, don’t send your kids to school.”
Genesee County is just under 60 percent for those fully vaccinated, which is “pretty close to our counterparts in the rural region,” he said. The health department is fully stocked with vaccines and booster shots, and people just have to call and make the appointment. A much lower rate of Genesee County residents — 28 percent — have gotten their boosters, which have been shown to be “very effective” at preventing illness and slowing down the potential severity of the virus, he said.
Interviewer Howard Owens, publisher of The Batavian, shared his own experience after receiving the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine and, a six months afterward, the booster. He had direct exposure to someone who later that day was symptomatic and then diagnosed with COVID-19. Owens quarantined for five days and tested negative with no symptoms. He believes that’s a testament to the protection of the vaccines, he said.
It’s that kind of personal responsibility that the health department is urging.
“We’re going with more of an honor system. We want people to be responsible, make those decisions and do their part to eliminate Covid within their communities,” Pettit said. “Our data is clearly showing that it prevents severity. With spread so high, we can all do our part. If out in public, put the mask on … more of the well-fitting masks. We’re encouraging people to go out and get their booster shots. Stay home, especially if you’re symptomatic. Hopefully, we’re going to start to see those numbers come down.”
To reiterate Pettit's press release issued last week, if you test positive for COVID-19:
- Isolate for 5 days, where day 0 is the day of symptom onset or (if asymptomatic) the day of collection of the first positive specimen.
- If asymptomatic at the end of 5 days or if symptoms are resolving, isolation ends and the individual should wear a well-fitting mask while around others for an additional 5 days.
- Individuals who are moderately-severely immunocompromised should continue to follow standard (i.e., not shortened) Isolation Guidance.
- Individuals who are unable to wear a well-fitting mask for 5 days after a 5-day isolation should also follow standard isolation guidance (i.e., 10 days, not shortened)
- Quarantine (for those who have had close contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19)
- Quarantine as follows, where day 0 is the last date of exposure:
- If not fully vaccinated or fully vaccinated and eligible for a booster but not yet boosted, quarantine for 5 days and wear a well-fitting mask while around others for an additional 5 days.
- If fully vaccinated and boosted (with the booster at least 2 weeks before the first date of exposure) or not yet eligible for a booster, no quarantine is required but these individuals should wear a well-fitting mask while around others for 10 days after the last date of exposure.
- If possible, test at day 5 with either a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT, e.g., PCR) or antigen test.
- If symptoms appear, quarantine and seek testing. In this situation, quarantine would end when the test is negative. If testing is not done, isolate according to the guidance above.
- Quarantine orders and releases are also included on the GOHealthNY.org website for you to complete and provide to your employer/school.
For COVID-19 data please visit the NYS site: https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/covid-19-data-new-york.