There are seven residents of Genesee County who are currently trying to recover from coronavirus -- three of them are hospitalized -- and none of them, according to the County Health Department, had contact with each other.
During a briefing, today, Paul Pettit, director of public health, acknowledged that that fact pattern indicates widespread community transmission in Western New York.
Of the seven cases, we don't know where any of the individuals contracted COVID-19, be it in Genesee County, a neighboring county, or elsewhere in New York State but what we do know is they didn't give it to each other.
That makes social distancing critically important in controlling the spread of the potentially fatal disease.
"We're all in this together and one of the things we are hearing is folks are not complying with social distancing," Pettit said. "We're hearing that folks are just out and about and not hearing the recommendations, the guidelines, and so, unfortunately, these extreme mitigation techniques may linger longer. The more adherent we are and the better we do at following these guidelines the sooner we can get out of this out of the way and get back to normal life."
Coronavirus is all around us.
Erie County: 219 total cases, 85 new in the past 24 hours.
- Livingston County, three total cases
- Monroe County, 160 total cases, 21 new
- Wyoming County, seven total cases.
- Orleans County, four total cases
In Genesee County, 17 people are under precautionary quarantine and 34 people are under mandatory quarantine.
Not all of the people under quarantine were placed there because they had local contact with a positive case. Some of them had contact with a person in another county.
In New York, there are now 44,635 positive cases and 6,481. That's more confirmed cases in New York than any country in the world.
The countries that have had the most success in battling coronavirus -- such as Germany and South Korea -- have used aggressive contract tracing, social isolation, and testing.
Health workers in our county are working hard, Pettit said, to identify contacts positive cases had with other people. If any of those people were in a large group of people -- such as in a story or at an event -- that information would be released. If that information isn't released -- and it hasn't been -- Pettit said, that indicates the people who tested positive had more one-on-one contacts than any large-group contact.
At least for the period of symptoms that is included in the contract tracing protocol.
Pettit said local staff is working long hours on contact tracing and individuals who have come within six feet of a known positive case are being placed under mandatory quarantine.
However, the department is following state guidelines and only looking for contacts with positive patients going back to the first day of symptoms. A person who contracts COVID-19 can be infectious for days, if not two weeks, before becoming symptomatic.
Pettit's advice in this situation: act as if you've been infected or people around you are infected. People on social media worry too much about where a person who has tested positive might live or where they might have been. That's ignoring the fact that you can be exposed to COVID-19 anywhere at any time.
"We do have community spread in both Orleans and Genesee counties, which means you can literally get it from anywhere," Pettit said. "It's not important to know exactly where a person (who tests positive) is from. We all move around. It's just important to maintain the six-foot separation and the other recommendations that are out there."
If there is a major increase in hospitalized cases, United Memorial Medical Center is ready, said Dan Ireland, the hospital's CEO.
The hospital has canceled elective surgeries, freed up bed space, implemented telehealth calls where possible, established a drive-thru area for triage, identified areas to create bed space, and has plans phases one, two, and three of increases in capacity if needed.
The hospital can currently handle about 80 patients for COVID-19 treatment.
Most hospitalized patients, Ireland indicated, won't need a "negative pressure" rooms, which is a room to a person who is coughing and sneezing a lot, which means they are spraying an aerosol of COVID-19 into the room, and the building, they're in. And only a minority of hospitalized patients will have such difficulty breathing that they will need a ventilator.
If needed for a phase two surge expansion, the hospital could add 45 beds for patients.
Right now, the hospital could expand to about 12 negative pressure rooms.
"That could go as high as fifteen with our current supply of equipment," Ireland said. "So it is a moving target because if we can get more negative pressure fans with the filters on than we can convert rooms as we need to."
As for ventilators -- the most important piece of equipment needed to save the lives of the most seriously ill patients -- there are currently seven ventilators for more serious cases available and ten for less serious cases plus the hospital has access to two more if needed, plus there are five or six anesthesiology units that can be converted to ventilators if needed.
Multiple readers of The Batavian have asked about sewing homemade masks to distribute.
For protective measures for health care personal, those masks will be inadequate, both Pettit and Ireland indicated. Even N95 masks, which some local people and companies might have in reserve, might not meet medical needs because of the need for custom fitting.
However, that doesn't mean donations aren't appreciated. Standards may change and supplies run low; and, as for the rest of us wearing masks, Pettit didn't rule that out but said the best course of action remains to follow the protocols for staying at home as much as possible and social distancing.
"We've got to be careful with masks," Pettit said. "Having a mask on or any barrier is better than none ... (but) the recommendation is still not to be walking around and wearing masks. The recommendation is to stay home, help mitigate, keep six feet away from people, and the mask and wearing them is not going to be as vital."