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Schenectady County officials: COVID-19 surge looming, but timeline unclear

Schenectady County officials: COVID-19 surge looming, but timeline unclear

Predictions hampered by lack of widespread testing
Schenectady County officials: COVID-19 surge looming, but timeline unclear
Health Officials set up a drive-thru Covid-19 testing site at UAlbany
Photographer: Peter Barber/Staff Photographer

SCHENECTADY — County officials are bracing for a surge in coronavirus cases.

But the lack of widespread testing is making the exact timeframe tough to pinpoint.

Schenectady County Director of Public Health Lisa Ayers said a spike could land anywhere between one to three weeks, but said it’s a moving target.

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“When testing becomes more available, we’ll be able to determine that surge more effectively,” Ayers said.

Officials statewide have said positive caseloads are likely far higher in the community than reported because of the lack of testing and many cases are mild.

The state hopes a drive-thru testing center at the University at Albany, launched on Monday, will alleviate the shortage.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has warned a wave will ripple across upstate once cases subside in the New York City area, the current epicenter of the virus, which has killed 5,489 New Yorkers as of Tuesday morning.

County public health officials are having daily conference calls with regional health care providers to facilitate both rapid testing and conventional testing, Ayers said.

After two days in which fatalities flattened statewide, New York logged its highest one-day death toll on Tuesday, reporting 731 deaths.

Cuomo was quick not to draw a definitive conclusion and underscored projections are subject to change.

But he said a decline in the three-day hospitalization rate and number of daily ICU admissions is a possible indicator that the virus may be plateauing.

“We’re projecting that we are reaching a plateau in the total number of hospitalizations,” Cuomo said on Tuesday. “You can see the growth and you see it starting to flatten again.”

Schenectady County announced one new death on Tuesday, bringing total fatalities due to the coronavirus to eight.

All have been over the age of 70, Ayers said.

County officials are in contact with Ellis Medicine regularly to discuss surge planning, County Manager Rory Fluman said.

The county’s lone hospital has increased its capacity to care for patients by 50 percent, with a second plan designed to increase capacity by 100 percent if necessary.

Patients suspected of having COVID-19, as well as confirmed cases and transfers from New York City, are housed in a separate unit.

NEW DATA EMERGES

Ayers briefed the county Legislature on Monday night, but the teleconference was marred with technical problems and much of her report was inaudible.

Ayers and Fluman recounted the briefing in a phone interview with The Daily Gazette on Tuesday, detailing the county’s plans once the epicenter is expected to shift upstate.

The county has secured agreements with several motels to house those under self-isolation and quarantine, arrangements designed to limit the exposure to family members.

“We do have arrangements with local motels,” Fluman said, who declined to identify the locations. “We are here to make sure those folks with COVID-19 who are not done with their isolations and quarantines are being housed.”

Self-quarantine is used to keep someone who might have been exposed to COVID-19 away from others, according to the CDC. Those suspected of coming into contact with the virus are required to stay home for 14 days and self-monitor. Isolation is used to separate sick people from the healthy.

The county reported nine new positive cases on Tuesday, bringing the total number to 138.

Seventy-two patients are currently hospitalized, up three over the day before.

The number of asymptomatic people who have come into contact with confirmed COVID-19 patients and are under self-isolation is 484, according to Ayers.

That’s about four times higher than the 113 who have developed symptoms and are under isolation.

To date, 1,279 people have graduated from isolation or quarantine.

County officials provided a new layer of data on Tuesday, releasing locations of where people are quarantined across the county by U.S. Census tract.

The city of Schenectady has 121 people who have developed symptoms and are under quarantine.

Clusters appear to be evenly distributed throughout the city: Upper Union and Central Park have 20 cases; Hamilton Hill and Woodlawn each have 12; Northside, 20; Central State State 17; Mont Pleasant, 16; Bellevue, 13; Stockade, 6; and downtown, 5.

Countywide, Rotterdam had 53 people under quarantine on Tuesday; Glenville/Scotia: 43; Niskayuna, 40, and Duanesburg and Princeton: seven each.

Officials underscored people should act like the virus is prolific, and should not presume any one neighborhood or locality to be safer than another.

Like other counties across the state, Schenectady County continues to refine how they communicate those deaths to the public.

While Albany, Rensselaer and Saratoga counties are now releasing the general ages and locations of the deceased, Schenectady County has not done so.

Fluman reiterated balancing public safety concerns against privacy considerations.

“We’re a small county, partially highly dense and partially very rural,” Fluman said. “Our demographics are different than Saratoga County.”

And while Saratoga County has a standing advisory asking people traveling to the county from the New York City area to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival, Schenectady County has not issued a comparable directive.

“That is something we will not do," Fluman said. “Only if Gov. Cuomo did it first, then we would follow suit.”

Social distancing is working, said Fluman, who urged people to continue to stay home.

“Whether you’re from Queens or Scotia, keep your social distance,” he said.

GAZETTE COVID-19 COVERAGE

The Daily Gazette is committed to keeping our community safe and informed and is offering our COVID-19 coverage to you free.
Our subscribers help us bring this information to you. Please consider a subscription at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe to help support these efforts.
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