County officials respond to rise in coronavirus cases

Wastewater samples collected from various north country locations are tested Oct. 8 at Clarkson University’s Rowley Laboratories. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

CANTON — St. Lawrence County public health officials are monitoring a number of positive cases in the county as schools continue to grapple with closures and new state guidelines.

Public Health Director Dana O. McGuire said about half of her department was working through the weekend as cases rise to levels last seen at the beginning of September.

“If we continue to surge, it’s going to be challenging,” she told the county Board of Legislators on Monday night.

Ms. McGuire told the board that 19 new positive cases were discovered in the last week, including seven over the weekend and six more during the day Monday. This brings the county’s total number of known active cases to 17 as of Monday afternoon, according to daily figures released by the county Public Health Department. Ms. McGuire said two of the cases discovered in the last week were due to clusters of large gatherings where there was no social distancing or mask wearing.

On Monday, Norwood-Norfolk Central School District moved students to a remote learning model, and Massena schools remained on standby after COVID exposures at both school districts. Edwards-Knox Central School District students are also still learning from home after three teachers and a remote student tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this month. Gouverneur schools considered going remote after a positive test just prior to the Columbus Day weekend.

Last week alone, the county Public Health Department warned of three potential public exposures at area eateries in Potsdam and Madrid.

According to analysis conducted by the Harvard Global Health Institute that’s regularly consulted by St. Lawrence County’s Board of Health President Dr. Andrew F. Williams and other local health officials, St. Lawrence County has had a relatively steady rate of new cases through the month of October. The month began with a seven-day average of 1.06 new cases per day per 100,000 people, which is also the lowest figure in October. On Oct. 4, that average increased to 1.72 and has remained in between for several weeks. As of Saturday, the average was at 1.46. Averages have only dipped below 1.00, the green risk level by the institute’s ranking, five days since the beginning of September.

Public health officials are also working with the schools to try and grapple with new guidance from the state on testing for students who are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.

“It has been challenging to do the implementation,” Ms. McGuire said.

The new requirements by the state require any in-person students who are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms — fever, chills, cough, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, and diarrhea, among others — to get tested and receive a note from a health provider. They must do this within 48 hours. If students can’t meet these standards, they must stay out of school for two weeks while they are monitored by the county Public Health Department as a suspected positive.

Dr. Williams said individuals can usually schedule PCR tests in the same day, but test results typically aren’t being returned until two or three days later.

PCR tests, according to the Mayo Clinic, are tests that detect genetic material of the coronavirus using a lab technique called polymerase chain reaction.

To help mitigate the delay in test results, the county has asked the state for a portion of rapid tests it’s distributing to counties, mostly those currently with hotspots like Brooklyn, in order to keep up with the newfound demand.

“We’re not optimistic that we’re going to get a large number of tests, but we’re hoping that we’ll get some,” Dr. Williams told the board.

Both officials continued to stress the importance of keeping up with public health-focused measures to mitigate the pandemic, including wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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