By ELIZABETH COOPER • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Rates of positive COVID-19 cases in the Bassett Healthcare Network’s eight-county region, including Otsego, are starting to come down.
In the past week, 6-8 percent of tests taken across the Bassett Network’s region were positive.
That’s down from 10 percent the week before.
In an interview Tuesday, April 21, Bassett Network CEO Bill Streck said there are several possible reasons, one being that the stay-at-home order mandated by Governor Cuomo is working.
Another is that the disease is following its natural course and is now past its apex.
Without more testing, it is impossible to know how far the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, has penetrated the community as a whole. Until that is better understood, people must remain vigilant.
“We have to continue to emphasize that social distancing and handwashing and all these hygiene practices are critical to all of us,” Streck said.
Across the nation, some demonstrators have emerged to protest stay-at-home orders states have implemented since the coronavirus arrived in the United States. Here, there have been no demonstrations, but county board Chairman David Bliss said he has gotten numerous calls from business owners asking when things will change.
“The majority (of his callers) are anxious to get back to, not normal, but to work on the path to get to the new normal,” Bliss said. “I think we need to be preparing to move in that direction.”
Like Streck, Bliss said that even if there is a gradual reopening of work places, people will likely have to continue with the masks, hand-washing and staying 6-feet away from others whenever they can.
The speed and steps to reopen will be determined by Cuomo, and may allow Upstate to move more quickly than the harder hit downstate areas.
Just 200 miles away, New York City has some of the highest rates of positive cases in the world. To date, there are more than 247,000 positive cases there, and more than 14,300 people have died since the beginning of March.
In Otsego County, as distinct from the eight-county region, there were 55 positive cases of coronavirus as of Monday, and of those 31 have recovered and are off isolation. Three people were hospitalized and four people had died.
The number of people on mandatory quarantine has dropped significantly from a high of 113 two weeks ago to just 25.
According to a federal blueprint for reopening, regions must show that the illness is in decline and hospitals must be able to show that they can treat non-COVID patients without jeopardizing their safety.
Streck said our area is on the way to being able to do both.
But the blueprint also requires there to be adequate testing capacity and tracking for COVID cases. We are not there yet, he said.
Testing capacity for active COVID infection has expanded dramatically here in recent weeks, but results can take several days to get back.
Bassett is on a waiting list to get a new type of test that will give results in minutes. Harder hit areas are getting those first, Streck said.
Also, we don’t yet have the equipment to test for antibodies, so researchers can determine who might have been exposed or had an asymptomatic case of the illness.
Such tests would enable the county Health Department trackers to see how far the virus had penetrated and how many people might be immune. The immune tests may be available here as soon as next week, he said.
For Bassett, the region’s low numbers may bring a gradual return to normalcy.
With the elimination of all elective surgeries, the hospital has seen far fewer non-COVID patients than usual. About 50,000 patients were seen in March, but that’s about one-third the usual traffic in the Network, Streck said.
The hospital has been reducing hours for certain employees to offset financial losses related to the reduced patient visits, but said that may change. The state is likely to allow elective surgeries again in areas like ours, where the virus has not progressed as far.
“We will bring people back as quickly as we can ramp up,” Streck said. “That will depend on how busy we become.”
Some parts of the Network have been converted to take in a possible influx of COVID patients, but the surge never happened and those areas may now be returned to their original function. It would take about 10 days from the day Cuomo authorizes such changes for the Network to adjust.
Then, it will be a question of how soon patients feel confident they can return without endangering themselves, he said. The Network has worked hard since the virus threat became apparent to make its spaces safe for non-COVID patients and that would continue, Streck said.