Friday, 03 April 2020 22:37

COVID-19 Statement by Oswego County Legislature Chairman James Weatherup

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COVID-19 Statement by Oswego County Legislature Chairman James Weatherup Supplied photo

The following is the transcript of the COVID-19 News Conference statement made by Oswego County Legislature Chairman James Weatherup on April 3rd:

Good afternoon. I’m Jim Weatherup, Chairman of the Oswego County Legislature. Today is April 3, 2020. Thank you for coming today, and thank you for your efforts in keeping our citizens informed of the County’s COVID-19 response activities.

With me today are Dr. Christina Liepke, Oswego County Health Department Medical Director, and Dr. Duane Tull, Chief Medical Officer of Oswego Health.

First, I want to share with you the wonderful news that nine of our residents have recovered from the coronavirus and have met the criteria to no longer be quarantined. This is great news for our community. Most people do recover from this disease. So far our numbers have been consistent with the state and national averages. Most COVID-19 patients can recover at home, and that has been our experience.

I want to review with you some of the steps that Oswego County government has taken to protect our residents and reduce the spread of the virus.

First, I want to assure you that our health professionals, first responders, law enforcement, human service agencies and many other partners are working around the clock to make sure Oswego County has the equipment and resources to protect all of us – both the sick and the healthy.

For several weeks we have held daily briefings in the Emergency Operations Center in Fulton to coordinate response, identify issues and unmet needs, and work together to make sure that agencies are getting the resources they need – whether it’s shelter for quarantined first responders, personal protective gear for our EMS teams, or food for our vulnerable populations.

On Tuesday, March 31, the Legislature passed a resolution creating an account with $500,000 from of our fund balance to pay for COVID-10-related expenses that we have incurred to date and to cover upcoming expenses. This move allows the County to track expenses if there is an opportunity through FEMA and other agencies for reimbursement. We currently have spent more than $150,000 as we combat and prepare for COVID-19.

Our biggest challenges are finding sources of PPE and other supplies for first responders and health care workers, as well as identifying locations to isolate or quarantine people who cannot do so at home.

By and large our community has done a great job practicing social distancing, with six feet of separation and handwashing, among other coronavirus-related precautions.

There remain pockets of groups, for the most part young adults, that have resisted either through a belief that it won't affect them, or a more troubling thought, that it’s a matter of fate. What they don't realize apparently is their ability to then spread the virus to other groups. This could then involve their family, friends, and most concerning, the very young and the elderly who may have compromised health issues.

There has been a lot of conversation about where patients live, work and shop. I can assure you that our health department conducts a thorough investigation in every confirmed case, to notify any known contact who may be potentially exposed to the virus.

The criteria are based on epidemiology, not scare tactics or hearsay. If it’s determined that a patient may have exposed others in a store, workplace or other public setting, we notify the public of the potential risk, as we did yesterday.

We’ve come under a lot of scrutiny and criticism from citizens and even other elected officials about how much information to release about individual patients. I can tell you this, from a health and safety perspective and as a matter of privacy it is both ill-advised and inappropriate for us to release more information than we already have.

To the social media fear-mongers, I ask you this; if you or someone in your family had a contagious or communicable disease would you want us to put your name and address on the front page of the newspaper? Would you want people parking outside of your house? Taking pictures of your home and your family? Threatening you and your family with harm? I think not and we are not about to subject these unfortunate individuals to that either.

If you are concerned about your health and safety, protecting yourself is easy, follow the recommendations of the medical professionals; stay at home, only go out for essential needs and if you do practice social distancing.

And finally, as we and others have said before, it doesn’t matter where a patient lives, this virus is everywhere and if we don’t practice protective measures it will continue to be transmitted throughout our communities.

With respect to sharing updates on the current conditions within Oswego County, all chief-elected officers, state and federal representatives, and county legislators receive a daily situation report that provides COVID-19 test results, including positive cases, and an update of daily operations, logistics and planning.

Once a positive result is verified by our health department, we reach out to share that there is a positive with the chief-elected officer in the person’s town or city. We do not reveal where specifically the person lives, just that there is now a positive. Every town and city in our county has someone that is either in precautionary or mandatory quarantine. This virus doesn't recognize boundary lines between areas. 

Much like other counties in our region, our way of dealing with coronavirus cases in public places is to keep that information private, unless the health department believes there was a ‘gap’ in finding people who were exposed to the infected person.

Officials must balance public safety with protecting the privacy of infected individuals who have done nothing wrong. Investigations are going on behind the scenes, and county health officials are erring on the side of caution in determining who needs to be contacted, reaching out to more people than is probably needed. Local employers are often releasing limited information publicly after conferring with the health department.

Thinking that you are "safe" because it’s not in your town is not accurate. Nor is the fact that if it is in another town, you can't go there because of the danger. We all need to be aware of the preventive measures and practice them to the best of our abilities.

Since we began this effort, our health department has answered thousands of calls on its hotline. The department’s COVID-19 page is updated daily. Our public information office has issued 16 daily updates and another 57 news releases to local and regional news media, and we greatly appreciate the media’s support in helping us communicate important information to our citizens. We’ve recorded and posted videos on various topics, distributed to the media, and posted on our website and Facebook.

If people depend on reliable sources of information and do what they are supposed to do, we can help control the spread of this disease. We are all in this together.

(Statements by Dr. Christina Lipke and Dr. Duane Tull. Questions from media.)

Closing remarks: Only through supporting each other and working together will we successfully come through this experience. Thank you again for your patience and cooperation.

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