St. Lawrence health chief repeats mantra to fight virus: wash hands

COVID-19 cases in St. Lawrence County as of April 1.

CANTON — One week after the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in St. Lawrence County, Public Health Director Dana O. McGuire is offering the same advice.

“As I have been saying for weeks, hand hygiene, cough hygiene, don’t go out if you are sick,” Ms. McGuire said. “Clean and disinfect and those two words are very different. You have to clean a surface first, take the dirt off, and then disinfect. And, stay home.”

St. Lawrence County has confirmed 37 cases as of Wednesday night, adding 14 in the last two days, and that is with somewhat limited testing.

“Testing is still being prioritized,” Ms. McGuire said.

There is a shortage of testing supplies and hospitals are using different labs that take differing amounts of time to return results.

“The State Lab in Wadsworth is still about three days but they only take high priority cases right now,” Ms. McGuire said. “So they are doing health care workers and those that are at high risk.”

On Tuesday afternoon, the Public Health department released a map that showed the towns in which each case was located. Massena with 14 cases was followed by Potsdam with seven. Other towns had between one and 3.

It is hard to say why one place has more than another.

With each positive result, the Public Health Department starts to contact trace. It starts with an extensive interview, Ms. McGuire said.

“We contact all of those people who may have been in close contact or proximate contact. We want to know both,” she said.

Then they interview those people and determine who needs to be quarantined and who needs to be tested and whether more people need to be contacted.

“If they were sick and had symptoms and they were self-isolating, they might not have any contacts. But, sometimes people have had mild symptoms or then got more sick and didn’t realize it,” she said. “It’s hard to know when things (symptoms) started or maybe they were still going out or didn’t self-isolate well. Some cases have very few contacts and some cases have quite a list.”

People who are contacted can be placed in precautionary quarantine and those who test positive are isolated in a mandatory quarantine.

Mandatory quarantine people are contacted twice a day, while precautionary quarantines are contacted once a day.

“For the people that need to be contacted twice a day we do a Facetime call to see that person, to see how things are going, to see that they have everything they need and to see if symptoms have started or if symptoms have gotten worse,” Ms. McGuire said.

Those that need to be contacted once a day can use a messaging app that has been provided by the state.

There are about 100 people in one quarantine or the other.

The Public Health department has changed its working hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. so that staff can be spread out and not have as many people in the office at the same time.

“We have widened the space that we work in and we have also gotten assistance from other county departments,” Ms. McGuire said.

The department has started screening people before they come into the office, by checking temperatures and asking about symptoms. She recommends that other business do that as well.

“We have had our cleaning increased to three times a day. They come and wipe down highly used surfaces, doorknobs, light switches, the copier that we are all using and people have wipes and hand sanitizer at their desks. We are all in cubicles so we are all always six feet away from each other at least. We’re trying to space out as best as they can.”

Staying away from others is crucial, she said.

“We know that most of the transmission comes by person to person. So, if you don’t have person-to-person contact you can’t get the virus,” Ms. McQuire said.

Wearing gloves and masks in public might make people feel better about being in a public space but it does not make a person completely safe, she said.

“People feel safer with gloves on but you still can’t touch your face,” she said. “Just because you wear gloves or wear a mask you still have to do all the other things as well.”

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

St. Lawrence/Franklin County Editor

Slowly self-propelled. Two-time cancer survivor. Nearly 30-year newspaper veteran.

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