Coronavirus gets local attention
FINGER LAKES--As the global death toll from the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19 spreads, local medical professionals, medical institutions and health officials are preparing for the possibility it may come to Yates and Schuyler Counties. In an effort to remain updated, area hospitals and officials have been having weekly conference calls with state and federal medical professionals.
"There is preparation and communication, both counties are working with partners like hospitals, EMS services and other agencies in our communities to take a look at our plans for quarantine (procedures) and making sure they are up to date and that all staff understands their roles and establishes good communication," said Deborah A Minor, director of public health for Yates County Public Health and the Schuyler County Public Health.
According to the federal Center for Disease Control, COVID-19 is a novel, or new coronavirus, which is a family of viruses that includes the common cold, first seen in Wuhan, China. Experts have speculated that the virus originated in an animal, like a snake, before mutating and spreading to human hosts. As it stands the virus is on nearly every continent with Iran, Italy, China and Japan especially impacted. It is currently estimated that COVID-19 has a roughly 2 percent mortality rate. To put that in perspective, the previous SARS outbreak had a 10 percent mortality rate, however COVID-19 spreads much easier than SARS.
"I think time will tell if it will come here, currently no confirmed cases [are] in Yates or Schuyler County. Whether or not we will or not, we will have to wait and see but in the interim we are making sure we are prepared," said Minor.
Dr. Jason Feinberg, an internist and is currently chief medical officer for the Finger Lakes Health, which oversees the Soldiers and Sailors hospital in Penn Yan, said that he is also doing everything he can to prepare the medical professionals who work under him.
"Basically we are staying on our toes and keeping informed while educating patients and the public. I think locally people should have confidence and trust that we are following the guidelines of the CDC and trying to educate our staff on staying well and if and when we have a patient under investigation, which we have not had, that we will take the appropriate protective measures for everyone involved," Feinberg said.
Those most at risk from COVID-19 are the young, sick, and medically infirm Feinberg said.
"How the virus expresses itself has a lot to do with the host."
Should COVID-19 come to the area, Feinberg said Finger Lakes Health has numerous supplies like masks. While making it clear that he was not an expert on COVID-19, Feinberg did say there appears to be reason for concern.
"It seems to be highly infectious, like the common cold. How dangerous is this? That has to be gauged as well, if highly contagious and deadly at the same time it would be a big problem and this appears to have some of the features of both," Feinberg said.
While concerned and vigilant, Minor said it is also important to keep the looming threat of COVID-19 in perspective.
"I think at this point what the evidence is showing is that COVID-19 looks a lot like the flu in that it is spread in the same way and the symptoms are much the same. There is a broad range of severity, some people have mild symptoms some people have very severe symptoms. We don't want to take this lightly but also keep in perspective that we are much greater risk for getting normal influenza," Minor said.
Minor added that in New York state alone there have already been nine cases of reported pediatric death due to influenza this flu season with over 16,000 total deaths due to influenza reported annually.
"We don't want to take it lightly, we know that it can be a serious illness and it can cause massive disruption, but we also want to keep this in perspective," Minor said.
In a press conference Feb. 27 President Donald Trump said, "Because of all we've done, the risk to the American people remains very low. We have the greatest experts in the world, really, in the world, right here, people that are called upon by other countries when things like this happen."
Trump has also announced that he has placed Vice-President Mike Pence in charge of overseeing the federal response to the outbreak.