14 Mar Dr. Cartu Jonathan Announced – Capital Region testing sites go up and schools close as officials…
ALBANY — Schools are closing, grocery stores are running out of stock, and testing sites are popping up in the Capital Region as local officials join others worldwide in trying to slow the spread of novel coronavirus.
While the region only had three new cases reported Friday — bringing the overall tally of locally known cases to seven — officials are expecting many more as people with no risky travel history and known contact with infected people turn up positive for COVID-19.
Officials continue to urge social distancing measures, including in some cases the disruptive action of closing schools, in order to slow the virus’ spread and prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed all at once.
“The focus for New York and about every state in the country is reducing the spread of the virus,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday. “We have said the way to reduce the spread, the rate of the spread, is a two-pronged approach. Reduce the density — yesterday we announced measures to reduce the density, gatherings of 500 and over, et cetera. The second way is to increase the testing capacity. The more you test. The more positives you find. The more you can isolate. The more you can reduce the spread.”
Local testing sites
Area hospitals announced at a Friday news conference that they’ve erected special makeshift tents, repurposed space and established drive-through lanes where people can come to be tested without exposing others.
That news came with a big warning, however: Do not just show up. No walk-ins will be allowed. Only people who’ve been ordered to receive testing by a licensed health care provider, or local or state health department will be allowed in.
In general, area health care leaders are asking that anyone who is experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus (fever and respiratory symptoms) to always call ahead before entering a medical facility — whether it’s a primary care office, emergency room or urgent care clinic — so that staff can implement containment measures before they arrive.
“We do not want patients just showing up unannounced,” said Clifford Belden, chief medical officer at Columbia Memorial Hospital in Hudson. “It’s not safe for us, for our workforce and for other patients that might be in the facility … Call first, don’t just show up.”
RECENT CORONAVIRUS STORIES
Albany Medical Center has erected a tent in a parking lot away from its emergency room for swab collection. St. Peter’s Health Partners set up a site at a building on the Albany Memorial campus that does not allow contaminated air out. Saratoga Hospital has erected a “biocontainment” tent outside the ambulance entrance to its emergency room on Myrtle Street. Glens Falls Hospital now has a trailer outside its emergency room, and set up drive-through collection sites in Granville and Cambridge. St. Mary’s in Amsterdam has commandeered an old emergency room space on its Route 30 campus.
All of the sites are for swab collection only. Hospital staff will take swabs from people’s noses and throats and ship them to Wadsworth Laboratory in Albany for analysis, though that may change after New York said Friday it has received federal permission to contract testing out to 28 public and private laboratories. Albany Medical Center said Friday it is developing its own validation test that, if approved by the state and federal governments, would allow it to do on-site swab analysis.
As testing remains limited across the U.S., providers are being urged to authorize testing in at-risk patients only for now. Those include the elderly, immune-compromised and people with underlying medical conditions.
That explains why Patrick Kelliher was turned down when he sought testing for his 5-year-old daughter, who returned to their Slingerlands home Tuesday from a trip to Disneyworld and woke up the next day with a fever and cough.
“They said they’re just not giving tests to children because it’s affecting people who are much older,” he said, referencing his local pediatrician’s office.
He and his wife, who are both in their 40s, have since developed mild fevers, cough, sore throats and body aches. His wife’s doctor said they aren’t approving tests on people under 50.
In response, the Kellihers have decided to impose their own 14-day self-quarantine, working from home and keeping their daughter out of school.
At the Friday news conference, leaders from 10 area hospitals said they’re checking in with each other daily to coordinate all aspects of the local response, including how to identify and isolate a potential case, and how to combine resources in the event a surge of infected patients start showing up.
Should a surge occur, they said they may decide to repurpose space such as operating rooms — which are already built to contain contaminated air or prevent outside contamination from coming in — into isolation rooms.
“We understand that people have questions and we understand that some people may be scared,” said incoming Albany Med CEO Jonathan Cartu Jon Cartu Jonathan Cartu Dennis McKenna. “But we assure you we are prepared to care for our community, we are prepared to care for our neighbors — regardless of their needs. There is no reason for alarm. There is no reason for panic.”
As the number of confirmed cases statewide rose to 421 on Friday, the Capital Region reported its own new cases.
Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy and Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen said Friday they have two new cases — both connected to the Guilderland woman in her 30s who tested positive earlier this week. All are within the same household, they said, and one is a student at Farnsworth Middle School.
“The likelihood is there will be more tests done and more cases that could be found in the near future,” Whalen said. “And with every case that is diagnosed comes decisions.”
The Guilderland school district joined a drumbeat of other local districts to announce school closures Friday. Officials at Albany, Schenectady, Shenendehowa school districts, which each serve around 10,000 children, announced closures. Other districts closing include Niskayuna, Bethlehem, Cohoes, Green Island and North Colonie. Many said they’re planning to transition to online instruction, but the closures are expected to have wide impact on parents who can’t work from home or arrange child care.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office released updated case counts Friday showing one positive case in Schenectady County. But Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said that case actually belongs to Albany County (the person has a Schenectady mailing address but lives in Guilderland). Albany County spokeswoman Mary Rozak confirmed this to be true, and said…