Last Sunday, www.AllOTSEGO was able to trumpet the news: “VACCINE HERE! 350 Bassett Tier 1 Workers Getting Shots Over Weekend.” Within hours, thousands had clicked throughto read the good news.
It – the COVID-19 pandemic – is not over, but it’s on the way to being over.
This happy news comes at a time when, as the Gospel of Luke had it, humanity wishes for “peace on Earth, good will toward men.”
It’s the time of year when we pause and reflect on how close we’ve come to the ideal.
The reality, this year as always, is that we missed it, given we live in an imperfect world, populated by imperfect people looking to find the way through a glass more or less darkly.
To what? To a modicum of happiness, prosperity, good will, not just for ourselves, but to our fellow humans. Not just here, in our relatively safe and secure Otsego County,
but throughout our state, country and even world.
Perfection, whether you’re religious or not, is not of this world – but the journey is life’s meaning.
Statistically, we can reflect with some satisfaction on meeting the COVID-19 challenge, (although it’s not over yet, and continued vigilance is essential.)
The crudest measurement – mere numbers – affirms this. As of this writing, 11 local people have succumbed to COVID. According to the state Health Department, 700 people die in our county annually, so this worldwide health challenge, the worst in a century, raised the local death rate by 1.4 percentile points.
Even with the post-Thanksgiving spike, only 1,300 people were infected.
Take out the 750 on SUNY Oneonta’s campus – only one person in the community was determined to have been infected by that outbreak – only 550 people in the county at large have been stricken with the virus.
That’s less than one percent of our county’s population of 59,493 people.
To focus on the numbers shouldn’t harden us to the grief suffered by those 10 families, or to the lost wages, damaged and closed businesses, stunted educations, or the other very real negative impacts of the disease.
But Otsego County achieved something special and we can be proud: We can take comfort in how our neighbors, professionals and political leaders reacted to what could have been a devastating onslaught.
First, we can thank ourselves.
The widespread – in some cases, almost universal – wearing of masks, is an expression of caring for our fellow citizens. Masks, it’s been widely reported, may protect the wearer – but, mostly, they protect us from infecting people with whom we come into contact.
In that sense, wearing a mask is an act of love, the central Christmas sentiment. We should be proud of ourselves and others.
Second, we can thank our professionals.
Our Bassett Healthcare Network was up to the challenge. Brinton Muller, the local hospital’s emergency preparedness manager, formed a committee to prepare for a possible coronavirus infestation as early as January, well ahead of our state and national leaders.
In March, when the worst began to happen, then-President/CEO Bill Streck was able to roll out a “hotline” and testing tents almost immediately. He was assisted in those early days by Drs. Bill LeCates, Steve Heneghan (since departed) and Charles Hyman.
Fingers crossed, but an expanded ICU has yet to reach its capacity, a fear in those early days.
(Astonishingly, Bassett accomplished all this during a transition to the new president/CEO, Tommy Ibrahim, who devised and began implementing a futuristic, system-wide reorganization parallel to the COVID fight. That reflects a first-rate operation – and brings the famous Scott Fitzgerald quote to mind.)
Outside Bassett, county Public Health Director Heidi Bond became the face of the COVID-19 fight.
Third, of our political leaders.
Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig reported the other day that, in limiting the campus outbreak’s impact, the City of Oneonta’s infection rate is among the lowest in the state.
Cooperstown Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh achieved similar results, with Governor Cuomo singling out “America’s Most Perfect Village” last month for its particular success. This, despite hosting baseball fans from around the country over the summer – fewer, for sure, but enough to pose a threat.
At the county level, the Big Three – Treasurer Allen Ruffles, with the support and encouragement of the county board’s top leadership, Chairman Dave Bliss and Vice Chair Meg Kennedy – put together a package of borrowings and revenue streams designed to get county government through a historic challenge with minimal impact.
Of course, as we wish for “peace on Earth, good will toward men” at Christmastime, let’s not forget pride is considered a sin. We’ve done well, but we’re not out of this yet.
It could take weeks, maybe months – let’s hope otherwise – before the anti-COVID vaccines are available locally. Let’s stay the course, wearing masks, social distancing, washing our hands and avoiding crowds – as we have.
We’ve proven we can do it. As we count our blessings this Christmas, let’s stay the course.
County Staffing Increased As Deaths, COVID Infections Keep Growing
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
Help is on the way after county Public Health Director Heidi Bond lamented that her department is “overwhelmed.”
“We’re barely keeping up with the cases coming in,” she said. “With contact tracing, that means you might not get a call if you’ve been identified as a close personal contact in a timely manner.”
On Monday, Dec. 14, the county Board of Representatives voted unanimously on a resolution from the floor presented by county Rep. Michele Farwell, D-Morris, to approve three LPNs or three health workers, or a combination of the two, to ensure Bond has the resources she needs to continue combating COVID.
With Bond and five nurses working nights and weekends, she hopes to expand the staff to eight to assist in interviewing positive cases and providing additional contact tracing.
“It’s definitely a relief,” she said. “All of us have been working six days a week.”
As of Tuesday, Dec. 15,there were 153 cases reported over last seven days, with 16 hospitalizations and two deaths, 10 deaths total.
Both of the deceased were women over 55, including one elderly woman who caught the virus from an employee at her assisted living facility after the employee was exposed at a private Thanksgiving gathering.
But with the lack of contact tracers, Bond said it could be days before her staff can reach those who may have been exposed to let them know they need to quarantine.
Bond defined “close contacts” as a person, including household residents, co-workers or friends, that the positive case spent more than 15 minutes with, either masked or unmasked.
“Normally we want to contact those people within 24 hours to let them know they should quarantine,” she said. “Now we’re asking people if they know they’re positive, that they take personal responsibility and notify their contacts, as well as tell us those names.”
And that personal responsibility extends to those notified, she said, who need to quarantine at home for 14 days. “That means no going out to the store, no going into work, no seeing friends,” she said. “You just stay home and wait.”
Bond said that if not contacted by the Health Department within five days of quarantine, to reach out in order to get the paperwork needed to approve time off work through the CARES Act.