December 2, 2021

County health officials work to set the record straight

Facts vs. fiction

S.N. Briere/ staff reporter

Cortland County office workers screen people coming into the building on Tuesday. The screening is a new implementation to help control the spread of the coronavirus.

Fiction: You can get tested by the Cortland County Health Department.

Fact: Private providers are providing testing for high-risk individuals, like medical personnel and senior citizens.

“Everyone wants to be tested, the reality is that testing really isn’t going to get you anywhere,” county Health Director Catherine Feuerherm said Tuesday. “You could test negative today and positive tomorrow, so unless you’re symptomatic, testing is not a good use of resources. But certainly if you feel like you should be tested, you should discuss that with your doctor.”

However, if someone decide to check with their doctor on whether to be tested, Feuerherm said to call the offices, not show up in person.

But Feuerherm said anyone who is tested needs to understand that they must self-quarantine — and should not go to work or anywhere else to make sure the virus doesn’t spread.

Feuerherm, who intended to retire as the county health director Monday, rescinded her retirement that day to help the county gear up and fight the coronavirus, medically known as COVID-19, which has spread rapidly across the globe killing thousands of people across several countries.

“Anyone is at risk for contracting it,” she said. “It spread very rapidly. There is no vaccine, there is no antiviral. You can transmit and you can easily contract it. It’s what your body does with it after that. You may be perfectly fine, you may have mild symptoms and you’re still spreading that virus and that’s why we need you to stay away from the elderly and health care workers unless you are sick.”

She is using the pandemic plan to work through the various steps of making sure the county has the correct people in place to handle everything once the county gets its first case.

“We still don’t have positive test result here in Cortland,” she said. “We know it’s only a matter of time until we do.”

However, because the county has yet to have a case, it has given the county time to implement various measures related to social distancing and determine areas in which it is lacking. One of those areas includes necessary medical supplies like masks.

“We are hearing that community providers are having difficulties placing order for masks, for specimen test kits through their usual sources,” she said Tuesday. “We just put in an order yesterday through emergency management and Courtney Metcalf (the deputy Emergency Response and Communications director) tells me we’re at the bottom of the list. Because we have no positives we are not a priority for any possible resources to be shipped at this point in time.”

Fiction: You need a mask even if you’re not sick.

Fact: “We should be masking the ill, not the well,” Feuerherm said. Masks are also used for health care workers who have to work in close proximity with someone who could potentially have the virus or does have the virus.

Feuerherm said the department is doing the best it can to keep residents in the county up-to-date on what is happening. There is one public information officer for news media to contact, a hotline for residents to call in to get information and people working to keep up with Facebook messaging and the health department’s website.

“We’ve got two people manning the phones there,” Feuerherm said about the hotline. “We’re really trying to push the non- health/ public health related calls to someone else at the county level and the legislative level.”

They are also prioritizing workloads where they can, including suspending the Healthy Neighborhoods program for the time being and looking at extending restaurant permits “rather than going through the whole permitting process at the point,” she said.

She said that also means staff is being cross-trained — where possible — to take on tasks that they may not have needed to in the past.

The goal, she said, is to flatten the curve — the rate of change in the number of cases — to keep the volume of people infected within a range that the health care system can handle.

“We hear flatten the curve, flatten the curve, but it’s so important that we keep this thing from spreading to the best of our ability,” she said.