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County Urges Residents To Follow Its COVID-19 Guidelines

MAYVILLE — With a recent surge in COVID-19 cases countywide as a result of an outbreak at Fieldbrook Foods Inc. in Dunkirk, county leaders urged residents to follow mitigation efforts during a press conference Friday morning.

Public Health Director Christine Schuyler announced that 24 of Thursday’s 37 new cases were directly related to an outbreak at Fieldbrook. In addition, Schuyler revealed that the county had been made aware of two-to-three “large social gatherings” in the Dunkirk area. Ab additional eight cases were announced on Friday afternoon to move the county’s total active cases up to 82, while 304 cases remain under quarantine/isolation orders. The new cases involve a female young adult, a male and female in their 20s, a male in his 30, a female in her 50s, two males and one female in their 60s.

“Every person in this community must take personal responsibility,” Schuyler told reporters. “What you do on your downtime, on your half hours is up to you. But, please remember the consequences that spill over to our community — they also spill over to all of us who are working 24/7 to prevent the spread of this disease.”

Schuyler also said she’s “hopeful” that the size of this outbreak will help those in the county realize that “we need to learn to live in this world with a pandemic with no vaccine,” encouraging those in the community to “use common sense, stay away from each other, wear your masks, wash your hands.”

“There are going to infections, there are going to be outbreaks — people are going to get sick,” she said. “It’s our job to reduce that spread as much as we can and ensure that our health care systems do not get overrun. That’s something that all of us need to work on together. We don’t want our businesses to have to shut down. We don’t want our schools to not be able to reopen. But, that means everyone has to be smart — this isn’t rocket science.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday he will deploy a “testing SWAT team” to eight sites across the region in a partnership that includes Kaleida Health, Erie County Medical Center and Catholic Health.

Locally, testing will take place at the Dunkirk Fire Murphy Training Grounds at 665 Brigham Road. All eight sites will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Saturday through Wednesday.

Of that announcement by Cuomo, Schuyler said there “was no local involvement, no local knowledge of that which isn’t something new.”

“These are rapid tests,” Schuyler said. “Patients will receive their results in 15 minutes. This is technology that has not been made available to Chautauqua County until this time. We did not have the lead time, we did not have planning or awareness as the local health department.”

Those who test positive will be notified as soon as possible and will be required to self-isolate.

“We will be notifying all those who we receive notifications of positive results as quickly as we can,” she said. “In the meantime, anyone who goes there and receives a positive result will need to go home, don’t pass ‘Go,’ don’t collect $200 and go immediately home and self isolate. We will contact you, as far as my public health nursing staff as quickly as we can to officially place you into mandatory isolation. That is what will happen when you test positive. Please be mindful of that, be respectful of that and we will try to protect you as quickly as we can if you do test positive at one of these clinics.”

With regard to the Abbott testing machines that will be deployed, County Executive PJ Wendel said he would request that at least “one or two of those machines stay here in Chautauqua County” after Wednesday, when the temporary clinic will end, during his Friday afternoon meeting with the Western New York Control Room, which is chaired by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul.

“I don’t know if that’s part of the governor’s SWAT response team that’s moving on to other areas, but we do have limited resources for a quick testing turnaround like that,” Wendel said. “That would be advantageous especially as we look into schools. … It’s to be appreciated whatever we get from the state, but that’s something I will ask (Friday) because we have had some quick turnaround testing, but more would be very much appreciated as we move forward.”

While Schuyler believes that the worst of the Fieldbrook Food outbreak is behind the county, she knows that is not the case with COVID-19 — especially with schools due to open in less than two weeks.

“With colleges and schools reopening, we are going to see cases,” she said. “That’s the way this is, but as a community, we need to be able to manage that.”

And, though both were anticipating the Fieldbrook outbreak to be more than what they actually were, Wendel believes the county is prepared if or when another outbreak the size of Fieldbrook’s occurs.

“We were prepared for more numbers, so when these numbers came in, we were a little relieved,” he said. “We were prepared for more but we’ll move through in whatever comes our way, we’re going to take it and make sure that it gets done.”

Schuyler is still hopeful for more resources to combat whatever comes next, noting that although the county is in a hiring freeze right now, Wendel did approve her request to hire an additional nurse and a health educator.

“We ideally would like to find some bilingual staff to help us during this time, especially in the health education realm,” she said, noting that staff from each element of the department of health and human services have been responding throughout the course of the pandemic.

“Fortunately, one of the good things about having an integrated department of health and human services, we have more staff to pull from,” she said. “Anywhere we have nurses in our department, they’ve all been responding during this time. They were able to go back for a short bit to regular duties and now they’re back in our COVID response.”

“There will probably never be enough resources at one time to respond so we’re pulling everything that we can,” she said. “It’s just trying to get the bodies and not burn them out.”

Still, Wendel feels prepared and defended the county’s decision to not release information on the outbreak to the public sooner.

“This event took some time and planning, but we wanted to make sure when we did it, we did it right, because as we said, this is something we’ve been planning for. Will we have more of these? We don’t know. Time will tell.”

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