Chautauqua County is carefully watching what Gov. Andrew Cuomo does today about the spike in COVID-19 cases in the Western New York region. Chautauqua has a positivity rate less than a quarter of Erie County's rate.
Chautauqua County had one of its virtual town halls Tuesday to talk about COVID and take public questions. Despite strangling technological problems, county experts covered a lot of ground, from mask rules to how soon a virus vaccine will show up and how vaccinations will be handled.
County officials repeatedly pointed out how circumscribed they are on many decisions because Albany controls them, like statistics on nursing homes. Public Health Director Christine Schuyler said a positive reading doesn't mean a business shutdown.
"Just because an employee or a patient of a business tests positive for COVID-19 does not necessarily mean that a business has to close. That's where disease investigation comes in and contact tracing comes in," Schuyler said. "And along those same lines, there is no requirement anywhere for a business to have to, itself, report when they have a positive COVID-19 case, unless they are a long-term care facility."
Doctors told the town hall the county's stringent enforcement of the rules means a very low positivity rate compared to Erie County and far below some counties out West, like in North and South Dakota, where the positive rate can approach 60%.
However, Dr. Michael Faulk said there is a related and serious health issue: fear of COVID in health facilities.
"We want you to get to the closest hospital or dial 911," Faulk said. "I have personally witnessed patients in the Emergency Department setting ignoring symptoms, such as chest pain or shortness of breath or stroke symptoms and other serious symptoms, for several days prior to coming into the Emergency Department for help because they were afraid of contracting COVID-19 at the hospital."
Even as another state clampdown in the region looms Wednesday, Chautauqua's Health Department is working on its plans for mass vaccinations when a vaccine is approved and available for use in mass supply.