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Catt. County Seeing Uptick In COVID Cases

An increase in the number of Cattaraugus County residents testing positive for COVID-19 now compared to the early months of the pandemic has the county’s public health director wondering if a second wave indeed has arrived.

“February through June we had a very steady number,” said Dr. Kevin Watkins, noting that for the first few months positive cases came in at a trickle, about one to two at a time. “We thought we were doing very well. … Now, one day this week we had 16 new cases.”

As of Thursday the Cattaraugus County Department of Health reported nine new positive test results, marking 337 total confirmed cases to date. Of those cases, 84 were still active along with 12 deaths attributed to the coronavirus. Half of those deaths have been reported within the last two weeks.

Watkins said local residents — in a county with a population of about 76,000 — may be getting too comfortable while a pandemic continues to grip not only the community but other parts of the globe.

“We’ve been at this since February. It’s been a long time,” he said. “A number of residents have gotten COVID fatigue and have become complacent with public health warnings of wearing masks, social distancing and hand hygiene.”

Until a vaccine is available, the county’s public health director said there is always the risk of getting the virus.

“We, as public health officials, must continue to push out how important it is for people to continue to follow these practices,” Watkins said.

He alluded to clusters of new positive cases, especially in nursing homes and adult-care facilities, that have been driving regional COVID-19 rates up. Locally, almost a dozen employees and 55 residents at Tanglewood Manor recently tested positive for the coronavirus. The outbreak was first reported by Chautauqua County’s own public health director, Christine Schuyler.

“This is a stark reminder that COVID-19 is still circulating in this community,” Schuyler said at a press conference in Mayville. “We have to be diligent and do the best we can to prevent the spread of this disease.”

Watkins said COVID-19 is “very persistent and is not going away.”

In regard to Cattaraugus County, he said a second wave “has really begun to spread in the community. You’re seeing that with the numbers going up, and you’re seeing more positive cases among the youth, 20 to 39 year olds, who are coming down with the virus.”

He added: “We can only continue to push that message out there how important it is we not become complacent. There needs to be social distancing and wearing a face mask and not going to large gatherings. That’s all we can really do at this time.”

A rapid testing site that will return results within 15 minutes is scheduled to open in the town of Allegany, running from Monday through Saturday next week at the fire hall on West Main Street. Watkins hopes the rapid testing site will help identify more cases and thus get those residents in isolation or quarantine.

Watkins also applauds the efforts of county Health Department staff, noting that it’s a “Monday through Sunday effort.”

“It’s almost non-stop,” he continued. “My employees are stellar, they are top-notch working in the trenches. This is definitely something we’ve not seen before, despite all the previous training we’ve had in the past. … My employees, I love them to death. They are dedicated and some don’t even take vacations. They’re just working and doing their best to assist the public anyway they can.”

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