November 30, 2021

Health director addresses virus concerns, response

Metro Creative Graphics

Cortland County Health Director Catherine Feuerherm stopped by a meeting of Cortland County legislators on Wednesday to update them on coronavirus in the county.

Where it’s coming from

Most of the confirmed cases in Cortland County are among people who traveled to virus-heavy areas, Feuerherm said at the meeting of a committee of the whole, where legislators convene as a committee to work on issues, rather than make final votes.

“Our initial investigations here have shown that most of our positives were contact deposits outside the county or traveled to an area where the virus is pretty prevalent,” those include the New York City area and New Jersey, Feuerherm said.

No positives in facilities

“The fact that we have had no positives in any facilities or exposures in a communal setting like a grocery store I think has contributed significantly to our low numbers,” Feuerherm said.

“We saw that once a facility, a nursing home or group home, gets a positive it spreads quickly.”

She said that facilities took steps to limit the spread of the virus before the first case in the county.

Testing

Feuerherm said concerns have been raised about the lack of testing sites in Cortland County.

“We’re at about 1.5% of the population tested, which is comparable to our contiguous counties,” she said.

“Onondaga and Tompkins counties are partnering with their medical providers — Cayuga Medical in Tompkins and Upstate (University Hospital) in Syracuse — to make sure that the procedures around testing are followed.”

To date, 621 people have been tested.

“Counties are adding those exposures that have occurred in grocery stores or Walmarts or whatever to the list of people who are eligible for testing,” she said. “Otherwise, the message is if you’re not symptomatic, stay home.”

Essential personnel

“Essential personnel who are not symptomatic can be released to go back to work,” Feuerherm said, but must give the health department a copy of their schedule and agree to stay home except for work. “The employer is responsible for monitoring during the times the person is at work,” Feuerherm said.

Workers who test positive are kept in isolation for at least seven days, but can be released to work again if they are asymptomatic for 72 hours.

Details on positive patients

“That was a conversation we had with the county attorney, who advised that because the numbers are so low, in a small community it could identify the person and it could be a HIPPA violation that could come back to bite the county via a lawsuit,” Feuerherm said. “Until the county attorney says otherwise, we won’t be going in that direction.”

State data

The state Department of Health website listed one death in Cortland County. However, there has not been a death in Cortland County, Feuerherm said.

“We tracked it down and we’re told that hospitals downstate are reporting deaths downstate by whatever information they can find, that could be a driver’s license, that could be the last listed residence for a college student,” Feuerherm said.

Enforcing the governor’s orders

Feuerherm said the county works under its own sanitation code and does not have the authority to enforce the governor’s orders.

However, law enforcement can enforce court orders regarding isolating and quarantining.

Health department monitoring is unannounced and at different times of the day by whatever electronic means is available, Feuerherm said. If someone doesn’t answer, the health department leaves a message giving an hour or two to respond before sending a sheriff’s officer to the home.

“That’s usually enough to get a text back,” she said.