October 18, 2021

Potential winter resurgence of COVID raises fears

Kevin Conlon/city editor

Jeff Bowman, left, of Newark, Delaware, and Kevin Hrubik of Bridewater, New Jersey, eat lunch Thursday afternoon at Brix Pubaria on Main Street in Cortland. The utility contractors had stopped on their way to work in Rochester. They are seated in one of the booths recently surrounded in Plexiglas as the restaurant has taken health precautions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Amanda Kruman of Cortland was almost a statistic: No. 6,980,352. Had there been complications, she could have been another statistic: No. 202,828.

Those are, respectively, the number of people in America who have been infected with COVID-19 and the number it has killed, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Tracker. They are among 32.3 million infections and 984,000 deaths worldwide. And this is still the first wave of the virus.

Kruman was just about to start her sophomore year at Syracuse University at the end of August when she and her roommate were exposed to someone with coronavirus. She had to quarantine from Aug. 29 to Sept. 12, but the test came back negative.

“It was a scary moment and a lot to deal with,” Kruman said. “I never want to go through something like that again.”

“We continue to be in the first wave with fluctuating infection rates,” said Lisa Perfetti, Cortland County’s interim public health director. “Following guidelines remains our best defense until we have a viable vaccine option.”

Is the wave coming?

Robby Petrella, owner of Brix Pubaria on Main Street in Cortland, said his restaurant has gotten through the first wave with a shutdown, lots of cleaning, plexiglas screen and the Payroll Protection Program. A second wave would be a big blow.

“We’ve been able to handle the situation we’re in right now, but there were also the payroll relief packages that helped us get by,” Petrella said. “I’m not really convinced that will be available again in the future.”

It’s a situation Europe already faces. World Health Organization officials report a second wave crashing down on England earlier this month, as infection rates begin to climb across the continent. That revives a months-long debate on whether COVID-19 would hit the world in one big wave, or a series of waves. That’s how the Spanish influenza pandemic struck, where the virus spread in three waves over 35 months, each worse than the previous one.

And winter’s coming, said Kim Osborne, chief executive officer of Family Health Network. It will keep people inside, where coronavirus spreads more easily.

“Holidays are around the corner so that might cause concern in terms of large gatherings,” Osborne said.

Kruman worries that the relative ease with which Cortland County has ridden the first wave — no deaths and fewer than 100 cases until SUNY Cortland students’ arrival brought a spike past 200 — could backfire.

“With how things have been thus far, I think people would get too comfortable,” she said. “People would start getting reckless and it could lead to the second wave.”

How to prepare

Until there is a vaccine, the only way to combat the virus is to continue following guidelines since the start of the pandemic, Perfetti and Osborne said: Wear masks; wash hands and keep socially distant.

“Part of the preparation needs to be the recognition that COVID is still here and that the pandemic is not over,” Perfetti said. “Get your flu shot. Stay home when you are ill. Avoid gatherings and wear your mask. Also, keep a supply of groceries and essential items at home in case you are notified to quarantine.”

Tracking the disease is harder in communities that lack broadband internet access, Perfetti said. But she’s working with other health service providers to keep people informed.

“We share information and guidance/protocols as they occur and evolve,” she said. “Our partners are able to spread this important information to their clients and constituents.”

“We send patients a text that includes a hyperlink to a letter that communicates the impact our patient may feel as a result of the pandemic,” Osborne said. “That includes things like busier schedules, longer wait times and alternate visit types including person, telehealth and telephonic visits.”

“We’re thankful the majority of community members in our county have been following recommendations and guidelines,” Perfetti said. “Everyone should continue to do so we can continue to fight off this virus.”

Can businesses ride the wave?

Petrella recently finished installing Plexiglas in all of the booths inside Brix Pubaria in preparation for losing outdoor seating to the colder months.

“We framed them in,” he said. “We divided all of the booths. The way they look, you’d think they were already part of the building.”

Brix was one of the many businesses forced to close at the start of the pandemic. If a major uptick occurs, Petrella said he’s not sure how his business and others would fare, even though takeout and delivery were always a part of its business model.

“There are a lot of question marks on how we’d be able to sustain ourselves,” he said. “It’s tough to think about sending employees home again without them knowing when they’ll be back.”

Bob Haight, executive director for the Cortland County Chamber of Commerce, said some businesses have learned to create a backup plan.

“We know we’re not out of the woods and everybody recognizes that,” he said. The shutdowns aren’t the difficult part. Cash flow is.

“Without more stimulus, we’ll see more businesses close down,” Haight said.

Petrella doesn’t have a contingency plan in place if he must close his restaurant again: “Try what we did last time it closed and hope for the best.”