Numbers Climb, But More Tests
Available, Beds Not Lacking Yet
By ELIZABETH COOPER • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Nine days ago there were no Coronavirus patients among people who called Otsego County home.
As of Tuesday, March 31, there were 16. And one of those, Brenda Utter of Morris, has died.
Patients range in age from 20 to 75, county health officials said. There are 53 people more on mandatory quarantine because they have been in close contact with a positive case.
As the state’s numbers have climbed to the highest in the nation – some 75,000 as of Tuesday, March 31 – doctors at Bassett Healthcare Network have been anxiously preparing for an onslaught of patients here.
Though our numbers are growing, they have not leaped as high as feared.
“We are able to manage the patients that are coming in and need to be cared for,” Dr. Steven Heneghan, Bassett’s Network chief clinical officer, who is overseeing the network’s clinical response to the virus.
The precautionary measures the public is taking, along with Bassett’s triage system, are working, he said. But he cautioned that the picture could still change.
“We are expecting the worst and preparing for the worst,” he said. “And we are hoping for the best.”
Bassett Healthcare Network has given about 500 tests in its eight-county region, and of those about 10 percent are positive, Network officials said. That stands in stark contrast with parts of New York City, where that number is as high as 65 percent.
“I am not saying everything is over and everything is fine,” Heneghan said. “What I am saying is that everything people are doing is working and keep it up.”
Even though the county’s numbers are still small, the death of a single resident holds significance for the entire community, as well as the hospital, Dr. Bill LeCates, Bassett Hospital president, said in an interview.
For instance, Phillip Utter, husband of Brenda Utter, 63, of Morris, the county’s first victim, told his wife he loved her as she entered Bassett Monday, March 23.
Prevented from being with her by measures designed to protect the community, “It was the last thing I told her,” the husband said. Brenda died Thursday, March 26.
Hospital staff did keep in constant contact, letting him know all her ups and downs, and he is thankful to them for their kindness, he said.
LeCates said he could not speak about specific cases, but that the COVID crisis is taking a toll on medical staff.
“Everyone here at the medical center shares in the difficulty of this illness, and the sadness and difficulty that comes to people who are separated from their family members, especially at times like the end of life,” he said.
“We recognize how difficult this is for everyone. For the families and people who are hospitalized and the staff who are caring for these patients. It is a tremendously difficult aspect of this pandemic that people are separated at their time of greatest need.”
The stress on patients and their families is always felt deeply by hospital staff as they do their work, but with the coronavirus it’s worse. Because of the danger of spreading contagion, family members of those with the virus are not able to be with their loved ones who are hospitalized.
So far, Heneghan said, the hospital can handle the number of cases coming in.
“Our population had enough warning to use handwashing and social distancing,” he said. “It is proof of what other countries have shown us, that this is an effective way to reduce the spread.”
The network’s video conferencing system has enabled many of the patients to remain in their homes when they are sick, and at the moment “most are doing quite well and recovering,” he said.
“Of course not everyone has a quick recovery,” he added. “We are managing ill patients in the hospital.”
He declined to say how many COVID inpatients the network was treating, only that the number was “relatively small” and holding steady.
The hospital also has more than enough ventilators for the number of patients they are seeing now. They also have enough masks and face shields at the moment.
But, he cautioned that the picture could change.
There is an incubation period during which patients may not realize they are sick, when they may infect others as the go about their daily lives.
Also, the disease progression takes more than a week, and people with manageable symptoms in the beginning could take a decided turn for the worse and need to be hospitalized.
Heneghan said general statistics on COVID-19 show that for every 100 patients, 10 need hospitalization and five must go to the ICU.
He does not see COVID patients inside the hospital, but he does meet with patients being treated at home via the network’s video conferencing system.
►ENOUGH TESTS ON HAND
Heneghan said Bassett has enough tests right now to test people practitioners think might have the disease.
“We are not limited,” he said. “If we feel someone should have the test we will do a test.”
He encouraged anyone who believes they might have the virus to seek an evaluation, and to stay away from others until a determination is made.
“Other countries have had good results with that system,” he said.
►HUG THE PEOPLE YOU LOVE
For Phillip Utter the virus has already taken a heavy toll.
Asked what others could learn from his experience he recommended following the warnings of health officials and practicing social distancing as much as possible.
“You don’t ever know,” he said. “You could be the next one, you know. It has certainly proven that it isn’t just a downstate thing. It’s everywhere. It’s all over. You can’t be too careful.”