In this interview, Paul Pettit, director of Health for Genesee and Orleans counties, talks about: the recent uptick in cases; the level of community spread; how things are going with the schools; the arrival of flu season; the ongoing difficulty in getting adequate testing locally; and what the future holds.
Regarding the outbreak in Elba, Pettit said:
"What we can see is there is some connection, obviously, on the social side. I do want to say we haven't seen any school spread among these different students in Elba. They're more connected on the community side. There are some different things that we're identifying as some commonality and connections with some of these cases, some of them involved in social gathering, some birthday parties, different types of events that may have lent itself, again, maybe closer contact, prolonged contact that would have potentially led to some of these transmissions."
On guidelines and restrictions:
"We're continuing to advocate daily, locally, here, especially in the rural areas, for the testing capacity or some additional relief on some of these guidelines, some of the closures and capacity issues. We do believe that there should be a little more flexibility in some of these areas, especially with low infection rates overall. So we are advocating. We are working with all of our elected officials, to push back at some of these things."
After talking about eased guidelines for doctors in clearing students to return to school, Petit brought up ongoing issues with testing:
"Ultimately, that leads us into another area which continues to be a challenge for us -- access to testing. This has not improved for us here in Genesee County or pretty much any rural county in the state. We've been beating the drums significantly since the peak in March when we started to see our first cases. Unfortunately, we still are very, very limited with our access to testing. It actually became more restrictive about a month and a half ago when our health care facilities, most of the primary care docs, started doing testing of symptomatic folks only.
"The requirements for screens for going back to college or for people to want to go visit their loved ones in the nursing home now have to have a negative test within seven days. None of our local facilities were offering those types of tests if folks weren't symptomatic. And if they were able to get them, they were getting charged a pretty significant amount. That is not appropriate. It's something that we have, I myself personally advocated for almost every day, really, for our elected officials from local all the way up to our state elected officials to continue to push the governor's office for increased free testing for our residents. I mean, it's essential the way the governor has set up these guidelines with testing requirements and the need to have negative tests for various reasons. It's not rational in that we should be able to meet these guidelines without having the testing. ...
"We have to have the ability to meet the intent of the guidelines. So we're not in violation and we're not putting pressures and challenges on our residents that they have to make choices. Do I get tested to visit a loved one or do I potentially have money to go get groceries this week? ...
"(We) need to get rapid testing. We need it now and we are working on it. We're working at Oak Orchard, both in Orleans, Genesee County. They do have some of these testing machines and we're just waiting on the test kits antigen to be able to use them. We're also working on getting some rapid testing machines from the state that we could deploy and potentially use more broadly for some of these testing needs. But that's really key. We need to get access to this rapid testing so that we can get folks to where they need to go."