LITTLE VALLEY — As of Monday afternoon, Cattaraugus County had not seen any confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus.
Allegany and Erie counties have reported cases in the past few days, with three in Erie County and two in Allegany County.
Nine Cattaraugus County residents have received negative test results, according to Cattaraugus County officials, and another eight are awaiting test results for the novel coronavirus that has been declared a pandemic. Seven individuals showing symptoms that include fever, cough and shortness of breath are under mandatory quarantine at their homes, and four more are under precautionary quarantine.
Olean General Hospital and nursing homes and senior living facilities across the county have been closed to visitors to help prevent the spread of the virus to some of the county’s most vulnerable residents.
Cattaraugus County Legislature Chairman Howard VanRensselaer declared a state of emergency on Sunday. On Monday, county lawmakers were hastily summoned into emergency session for a coronavirus update from county officials including Public Health Director Dr. Kevin Watkins and acting Nursing Homes Administrator Kelly Reed.
One in four county residents is age 60 or older, Watkins pointed out, and the elderly and immune-compromised that are more susceptible to serious complications from COVID-19.
Watkins told the Times Herald that all the test results received so far have turned up negative. “We currently have eight pending tests conducted by medical providers and the Health Department.”
The testing is being done at the Erie County Health Department laboratory with a 24- to 48-hour turnaround, Watkins said. “They are cranking out those tests quickly.”
Cattaraugus County, however, continues to suffer from a limited number of test kits available to the county Health Department and Olean General Hospital.
“The problem for Cattaraugus County is we have a shortage of the test kits,” Watkins said. The tests are being offered only to people with symptoms. Olean General Hospital received about 350 COVID-19 test kits, while the county Board of Health only about 30.
“We’ve got 77,000 county residents and 74,000 want to get tested,” Watkins said. “It will be awhile before we can do mass testing.”
Due to the state of emergency, county officials are preparing to implement additional precautionary measures to protect individuals and the community at large.
If a person comes in in contact with someone who has been exposed to the virus, they should isolate themselves from the community and contact their primary care physician, Watkins said.
Closing schools and limiting gatherings at most locations will help prevent many infections. Other “social distancing” is also important, Watkins said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order to close bars and restaurants and many other locations and events. Also, movie theaters and gymnasiums were to be closed after 8 p.m. Monday.
Watkins told those over age 60 and those who are immune-compromised to hunker down at home.
“There’s no need to be out among a bunch of people,” he said, adding the positive tests in border counties is a lesson. “If it’s happening there, we can only speculate it is happening
in our community. People out there could unknowingly spread it.”
Preventative measures should include frequent hand washing or use of hand sanitizer, and no handshaking, Watkins said. Consider routine cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and objects touched by others.
There are no antiviral medicines or vaccines for COVID-19. “Our only tool is isolation.”
The virus is likely to cause “a huge economic impact,” but in the end it should result in fewer infections.
“Handwashing really reduces the spread of COVID-19,” Watkins said. “Be careful out there. We don’t want folks to be panicky. We’ll get through this together.”
The county’s state of emergency does not in any way impact travel at this time. County government operations will continue unchanged unless otherwise advised.
(Contact reporter Rick Miller at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)