SCHENECTADY COUNTY — Schenectady County lacks its own COVID-19 testing sites because the tests are in short supply, but the county is working to increase access to testing, County Manager Rory Fluman said Friday.
“Every single person should be tested … but there are not enough kits out there,” Fluman said while holding the county’s first live briefing on its response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“We are working every day here in Schenectady County to increase our testing capacity,” he said.
Using Facebook Live, Fluman also said the county will provide a face mask to meet the new state requirement to anyone who can’t get one from another source, and he heaped praise on the county’s Public Health Department and other front-line healthcare workers.
At the same time, he warned that no end is in sight to residents’ worries about public health and disease spread. “At some point schools will re-open, at some point sports will resume, but the reality is we are going to be thinking about infection control for a long time to come,” Fluman said.
While other Capital Region counties, including Albany, Saratoga, Montgomery and Rensselaer, have held regular public updates via Facebook Live, this was the first time for Schenectady County, which has been criticized for not being more forthcoming. Fluman spoke from his office in the Schenectady County Office Building for about a half-hour, with a 10-minute opening statement, followed by answers to pre-submitted questions.
One of the questions was about local access to testing. Fluman said the test kits remain in short-supply, though Ellis Hospital, Community Care Physicians and all nursing homes have them for their own internal use.
The closest public testing site is at the University at Albany, and Fluman said that site is available to Schenectady County residents. “They are a regional site to assist other counties with testing,” he said.
All the public sites aren’t open to everyone; they’re limited to people who have been recommended for testing by a medical professional.
The root problem of why more people can’t be tested is a supply shortage, Fluman said. “Every single person has experience with trying to buy toilet paper. The exact same thing has happened with test kits,” he said.
There is a general shortage of testing capacity for COVID-19 at the national and state levels, as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said during his own briefing on Friday.
Fluman said the shortage means the counties shouldn’t compete with each other. “The simple fact is we cannot, as the governor put it, be savaging each other — Schenectady County against Albany County and Schenectady County against Saratoga County, in the competition for these tests,” he said.
Early in the pandemic, the county Legislature appropriated $1 million to fight the pandemic, and that money has been used to hire 15 new public health nurses, who with the help of volunteers are working on issues like tracing the contacts of people who become sick, so those people can be quarantined. “One case can necessitate two or three hundred phone calls,” Fluman said. “It’s an amazing operation we have put together.”
Volunteers are also helping with the response, which includes a major effort to feed and otherwise provide for quarantined or vulnerable people, so they don’t have to leave their homes. “We will do everything we can to keep you home, so we can keep you safe.”
While state Health Department numbers show that across upstate COVID-19 is hitting disproportionately hard in black communities, Fluman said county officials have seen no evidence of that being the case in Schenectady County.
“If there are issues of race and COVID-19 disproportionately affecting a certain neighborhood, a certain town, a certain gender, a certain race, that is something that needs to watched very carefully and studied very carefully,” Fluman said.
“At higher [population] densities you obviously have more people, and more people with the COVID-19 virus,” he said.
Later Friday, the county released the latest statistics, showing 295 residents now diagnosed with COVID-19 and 28 people hospitalized, with 200 people in isolation quarantine with symptoms, and 655 people in precautionary quarantine. The county has recorded 14 COVID-19 deaths, according to state figures.
The county also released census-tract-based information on quarantines and isolations in the city of Schenectady and surrounding towns. The maps they released show that the southern part of Niskayuna has a concentration, along with lower-income Schenectady neighborhoods, including Hamilton Hill, Mont Pleasant and Central State. Every town, however, has at least some people in quarantine, including rural communities like Princetown and Duanesburg.
More than 200 viewers wached Fluman’s Facebook presentation live, and by late Friday afternoon it had received more than 2,000 views. Fluman said he anticipates holding another briefing next Friday, and the county could be releasing new information videos as soon as Monday.
Anyone needing help securing a mask or other non-medical assistance can call the county’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Coalition at 518-621-3536.