Expecting Little Excitement, Health Officer In Maelstrom


Expecting Little Excitement,

Health Officer In Maelstrom

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

ONEONTA – When Dr. Diane Georgeson took a call from Mayor Gary Herzig at the beginning of the year, she had no idea what awaited her.

Dr. Diane Georgeson accepted the city’s health-officer position just before the outbreak.

“Gary asked me if I would be interested in being the city’s health officer,” she said. “I was honored, but I did not anticipate a pandemic!”

Georgeson, a recently retired Fox Hospital physician and the medical director of Family Planning of South Central New York, has been at the forefront of the city’s COVID-19 defenses.

“I told her the health officer is called once, maybe twice a year because someone might have too many pigeons in their back yard,” said Herzig. “But she has stepped up, and we’ve really come to depend on her.”

Trained as an OBGYN, the closest she had come to a pandemic previously was the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, while she was in medical school. “There was a fair amount of fear and unknowing,” she said. “We were trying to understand a new, frightening virus, but nothing I’ve seen has been anywhere near this scale or direct impact.”

An Oneonta native, she is the daughter of former mayor James Georgeson, and the granddaughter of former mayor Joseph Lunn.

One of her first calls to make was whether or not to begin “social distancing” even before the state mandated the practice be put into place.

“I was asked if the Catskill Symphony Orchestra should cancel their Cabaret Concert,” she said. “My initial response was no. But 12 hours later, everything had changed and it became clearer what we had to do. I told them that they should cancel.”

She also began advising the city on best practices for keeping the public safe, while still providing services.

“I see myself as a communicator,” she said. “My job is to translate the guidelines of the county, state and World Health Organization. Things are changing so rapidly that communication really is key.”

In mid-March she was approached by David Hotaling, Oneonta Public Transit transportation director, about the best practices for disinfecting buses. “I did some research and found what the COVID-19-approved disinfectants were.”

She instructed the city to buy a disinfecting fogger, which is used frequently on the buses and on the ambulances after every transport.

Similarly, she worked with Water/Sewer when they sought her guidance on wastewater management. “I managed to find some World Health Organization guidelines on just that,” she said. “And I reviewed protocols with police and first responders so that they’re prepared. This whole experience has really given me so much respect for how the city works.”

EMS crews now have guidelines for when and how to use Personal Protective Equipment, as well as what to do when one of them has been exposed to a potential COVID-19 case. On Georgeson’s recommendations, police and fire personnel are maintaining social distancing in their stations, and police have been tasked with breaking up people congregating in groups.

“The people of Oneonta have been wonderful about staying home, but every so often, there will be some kids playing basketball and the police will have to tell them they can’t,” said Herzig.

Several times a week, Georgeson speaks with Carrie Post, RN, head of Incident Command at Fox Hospital, as well as with Heidi Bond, Otsego County Health Director. She’s also begun meeting with the Town of Oneonta health officer, as well as Town Supervisor Bob Wood, as part of the city’s health task force.

“We need to bring people in and be inclusive because this affects us all,” she said. “We want to do whatever we can to support the people on the front line.”

But of all the advice she is hearing and disseminating, the original recommendations remain true.

“The most important thing is to wash your hands and don’t touch your face,” she said. “And keeping your distance is also important.”

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