OSWEGO — Much controversy has arisen around the county’s handling of announcing the locations of those who have tested positive for COVID-19, and Oswego County Legislature Chairman James Weatherup went to considerable lengths to justify the county’s reluctance to publish these locations during a combination press conference and daily update held Friday, April 3 in the county legislature’s chambers.
“There has been a lot of conversation about where patients live, work and shop,” Weatherup said. “I can assure you that our health department conducts a thorough investigation in every confirmed case, to notify any known contact who may be potentially exposed to the virus.
“The criteria are based on epidemiology, not scare tactics or hearsay. If it’s determined that a patient may have exposed others in a store, workplace or other public setting, we notify the public of the potential risk, as we did yesterday.
“We’ve come under a lot of scrutiny and criticism from citizens and even other elected officials about how much information to release about individual patients. I can tell you this, from a health and safety perspective and as a matter of privacy, it is both ill-advised and inappropriate for us to release more information than we already have.
“To the social media fear-mongers, I ask you this: if you or someone in your family had a contagious or communicable disease would you want us to put your name and address on the front page of the newspaper? Would you want people parking outside of your house? Taking pictures of your home and your family? Threatening you and your family with harm? I think not, and we are not about to subject these unfortunate individuals to that either.
“If you are concerned about your health and safety, protecting yourself is easy, follow the recommendations of the medical professionals; stay at home, only go out for essential needs and if you do practice social distancing.
“And finally,” Weatherup said, “as we and others have said before, it doesn’t matter where a patient lives, this virus is everywhere and if we don’t practice protective measures it will continue to be transmitted throughout our communities.”
Weatherup assured the public that “Once a positive result is verified by our health department, we reach out to share that there is a positive with the chief-elected officer in the person’s town or city. We do not reveal where specifically the person lives, just that there is now a positive. Every town and city in our county has someone that is either in precautionary or mandatory quarantine. This virus doesn’t recognize boundary lines between areas.
“Much like other counties in our region,” Weatherup continued, “our way of dealing with coronavirus cases in public places is to keep that information private, unless the health department believes there was a ‘gap’ in finding people who were exposed to the infected person.
“Officials must balance public safety with protecting the privacy of infected individuals who have done nothing wrong. Investigations are going on behind the scenes, and county health officials are erring on the side of caution in determining who needs to be contacted, reaching out to more people than is probably needed.
“Thinking that you are ‘safe’ because it’s not in your town is not accurate,” Weatherup concluded. “Nor is the fact that if it is in another town, you can’t go there because of the danger. We all need to be aware of the preventive measures and practice them to the best of our abilities.”
Oswego County Health Dept. Medical Director Dr. Christina Liepke reminded the public that “even if you are wearing a mask in public, it is important to keep that six feet of distance between others and those you do not live with.”
Liepke then went on to clarify an important and often misunderstood distinction.
“There is a lot of confusion,” she said, “about the differences between isolation and quarantine. I’d like to explain what that means kind of simply. Quarantine is for people who may have been exposed but are well. Maybe they traveled outside of the country, or they had some level of contact with somebody who’s positive. Isolation is for people who are sick with COVID or tested positive but do not have symptoms.
“We also hear a lot of questions about where and how people can get tested,” Liepke said. “The Oswego County Health Department follows the state Department of Health guidelines on testing. You really must call your doctor or the Health Department in order to be tested. Our number is 315-349-3330.”
Liepke noted the Oswego County Health Department does not test asymptomatic people, in other words, those who are showing no signs of the disease.
Testing is done at Oswego Hospital and Pulaski Urgent Care, Liepke said. Drive-thru testing only takes place at the Oswego Hospital.
The average turnaround time for results varies, she said, anywhere from a couple days to 10 days.
Chief Medical Officer for Oswego Health Dr. Duane Tull assured the public, “We are constantly, 24/7, training our staff to be prepared for the surge when it occurs, and we are ready. We have the supplies we need, and we have the staff to take care of these patients.”
In response to a question from the press, Weatherup said the state had not asked Oswego to share any of its supplies yet, “but apparently at 4 p.m. today,” he said, “they’d like our inventory. We, as a community, would be more than willing to help any other community if we can. But, we’ve also got to make sure, and the doctors assured me, that we have enough here at Oswego Hospital.”
Dr. Tull concurred in that opinion.
“We can assure you,” he said, “that we are going to keep all of the supplies we need to take care of our patients before anything is sent (to other facilities in the state). His (Gov. Cuomo) ask is actually very reasonable. He’s talking about maybe 10% to 20% of any unused supplies and guaranteeing that he’ll return them, but that could be a difficulty.”
Regarding testing, Tull explained, “the labs are loosening their guidelines on what they will accept for a test specimen, and by doing that, there are other materials that are out there that we can use now. So, the number of possible tests has gone up considerably.”
Dr. Liepke added, “I think the volume of testing in our county will have to increase as long as possible, given that the number of cases is increasing.”
With regard to the newly-developed 15-minute test for COVID, meaning results are obtained within 15 minutes, Dr. Liepke voiced concern that of the two types of 15-minute tests in existence, one is completely spoken for and would not be available here, and the other is rather unreliable.
“We are looking at that, but we have to be careful because that test can give you some false positives and false negatives,” she said. “So, you can imagine yourself not wanting to have a false positive, nor would you want to have a false negative. So, we need to be very careful before we make that decision.”
As to the question whether any of the 29 positive cases of COVID-19 in Oswego County have been hospitalized, the immediate answer was no. But, as Dr. Liepke explained, there have been no Oswego County residents who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 in an Oswego County hospital. Some have been hospitalized in Syracuse.