Cattaraugus County coronavirus cases more than doubled in November, straining the Cattaraugus County Health Department’s COVID-19 response.

Dr. Kevin D. Watkins, the county’s public health director, told the Board of Health Tuesday that like others, the Health Department staff is suffering from “COVID fatigue.”

There are nearly 350 active cases and 531 other residents under mandatory quarantine as contacts of known COVID-positive individuals and 27 quarantined travelers the health department contacts twice a day, seven days a week.

That’s in addition to overworked contact tracers following up on new positive test results each day. The Health Department uses a virtual contact tracing system.

“We talk about COVID fatigue,” Watkins said. “We are maxed out going on 10 months.”

Trained contact tracers from other county health department divisions and from other departments are being utilized to track and notify contacts of people who test positive for COVID-19.

“We need them in the mix,” Watkins said of the extra help. “It’s overwhelming. There were 650 cases identified just in November. That requires a lot of people.”

Active cases and those in quarantine get twice-daily calls to check on their symptoms.

“We can’t wait until the day that vaccine is made available,” Watkins sighed.

COVID-19 vaccines may begin to be administered to health care workers and other first responders as well as elderly residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Later, it will be available to others based on a priority distribution.

It’s hard to remember a day where the positive results haven’t been in double-digits. One day last month there was a record of 82 positive results.

“I think the health department is doing a great job,” said Dr. Joseph Bohan, president of the Board of Health. ”There are so many challenges with contact tracing. It must be very difficult.”

David Smith, the mayor of Gowanda and a member of the Board of Health, and his wife are among those county residents who have tested positive for COVID-19.

“We have been very impressed” with the follow-up by the health department, he said.

Smith said the couple have “mild symptoms” and are quarantining at home. They posted a video on Facebook over the weekend that they’d tested positive for COVID-19. They have been overwhelmed by gifts of meals and other gestures by friends and neighbors, he said from his home via ZOOM video conference, which is how the board has been meeting for the past nine months.

As of Monday, there were 1,138 positive COVID-19 tests among county residents. Of those, 772 have recovered. There have also been 29 deaths in the county during the pandemic.

Watkins said he plans to invite county employees who have helped with the health department’s COVID-19 response to a future board meeting for recognition — when it is safe to do so.

Watkins said plans have been developed for rapid coronavirus testing of students and staff at schools if parts of the county are placed in a yellow or orange zone due to the rising COVID-19 cases.

Bohan asked whether the health department’s home care workers should be tested weekly like nursing home staff. Currently, they are tested only if they have symptoms. More than 40% of county residents testing positive for COVID-19 do not have any symptoms. It is when people are asymptomatic that they are often most contagious.

Dr. Gilbert Witte, the department’s medical director, said the precautions most people are taking to slow the spread of COVID-19 also seems to be working to slow the spread of influenza.

Many health officials were concerned about COVID-19 and influenza, types A and B, hitting at the same time. So far, there have been six cases of influenza confirmed in the county.

The health department has provided flu vaccine to 1,300 individuals. Another 2,100 influenza vaccinations were administered by doctor’s offices and pharmacies. That is still about 1,000 below this time last year, Watkins said.

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at rmiller@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)

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