By ELIZABETH COOPERS • Special To AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Just one case.
That’s where Otsego County’s COVID-19 numbers are right now.
The Tuesday, May 5, data from the county Health Department showed, for the first time, no new cases for the past five days.
Of the 62 total cases found in the county since March 23, 57 had recovered and four had succumbed to the virus. The one remaining patient is hospitalized.
County Public Health Director Heidi Bond pronounced the numbers “great news,” but said that the virus is still circulating in surrounding counties and new cases are being reported.
To the north in Herkimer County, for example, there are still 18 active cases, though no one is currently hospitalized.
Bond expressed optimism about careful reopening in the near future.
“As a region we do not yet meet the criteria to open up,” she said. “Our region may meet the criteria by the 15th and then we will open utilizing guidance put out by the state and the CDC.”
That doesn’t mean this ordeal is over, she cautioned. “I don’t think anyone should think we are out of the woods yet.”
Governor Cuomo has designated May 15 as the end of his “New York PAUSE” period in which statewide social distancing measures must be in place. After the 15th, some regions may be allowed to slowly reopen under strict guidelines.
He announced Friday, May 1, that schools across the state will not reopen this year.
At Bassett Healthcare Network’s flagship hospital in Cooperstown, doctors are awaiting the go-ahead to begin outpatient and elective surgeries in earnest.
Under New York PAUSE, such surgeries had been put on hold statewide so that hospitals could free up beds for the possible wave of COVID-19 patients, but most of those beds were never needed. Without those procedures, revenue is being lost and staff is being affected.
Cuomo announced last week that hospitals in some counties could resume the surgeries, but Otsego was not on the list. Even facilities in Herkimer County, with its larger number of COVID cases, was allowed to start up again. Some of those facilities are even in Bassett’s network, like Little Falls Hospital.
Bassett Hospital President William LeCates said it’s likely that Otsego County didn’t make the list because there are fewer intensive care beds here.
“Bassett has the only intensive care beds in Otsego County,” he said. “They want to make sure that we have plenty of intensive care beds at any point in time in case a recurrence of COVID occurs.”
Such recurrences have happened in other areas, and hospitals everywhere need to be prepared, he said. Bassett would need to be able to provide beds for COVID cases, as well as seriously ill patients and elective surgery patients if a sudden resurgence occurred.
LeCates said Bassett has that capacity and has now submitted its evidence to the state.
“I think we have a very favorable case that we are well prepared to do all aspects of care for our population,” he said.
LeCates said the community has reason to be cautiously optimistic about reopening.
“One measurement of success is the low number of positive cases we see in Otsego County,” he said.
Those low numbers reflect the very careful attention people in our communities are paying to social distancing,” he said. “It can be very difficult and a burden for businesses and for people’s social practices, but it has brought us success.”
And if the virus does come back here?
“We have learned a great deal about it and will be better prepared,” Lecates said. “Researchers and doctors are learning more about the disease every day, and communities now have experience with working together in a health crisis.
“There’s a strong partnership between Otsego County, our hospital system and local organizations, employers and schools. I think that close partnership is so important in our ability to respond to situations that haven’t happened yet.”