PLATTSBURGH — Following a recent spike in active COVID-19 cases, Clinton County health officials are urging prevention as colder weather fast approaches.
“We can’t test our way out of this pandemic, and we don’t yet have an effective vaccine or treatment (for COVID-19), so the best thing we still have as these numbers are creeping up is the preventative measures we’ve been doing for months,” Dr. Keith Collins, infectious disease specialist at University of Vermont Health Network, Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital, said.
Collins joined Clinton County Director of Public Health John Kanoza, SUNY Plattsburgh President Alexander Enyedi and Clinton County Sheriff David Favro at a news conference Thursday to address the growing concern of more COVID-19 cases in the region.
The county had 43 active cases as of Thursday, up from 17 on Monday.
State prison officials confirmed Tuesday that there were 11 new inmate cases in Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora.
The Clinton County Sheriff’s department is supplementing the County Health Department team in contact tracing efforts at the facility, Kanoza said, and added that he had heard from representatives at the prison that they had gotten a handle on the recent outbreak.
The Northeastern Central School District reported a positive case of a first-grade student at Rouses Point Elementary late Wednesday night.
The student had not been in school since Oct. 16, a fact that Kanoza said bodes well.
“It makes the contact tracing job easier, and makes the likely contacts lower,” Kanoza said.
Students and staff members in the same “learning village” as the positive case will be quarantined as directed, a release from the school said, and all spaces the student occupied in the school will be thoroughly disinfected.
All campus buildings will remain open, according to the release.
There are currently four patients in CVPH being treated for COVID-19, Collins said, with one in the ICU.
All are stable and improving, he added.
The hospital has been preparing for a possible surge since late March and will be ready if that unfortunate reality comes to pass.
“We have extra ICU beds if we need them, we have extra ventilators if we need them,” Collins said. “Hopefully we won’t need all that, but we definitely have those plans in place.”
With much talk of vaccines in the news cycle, Collins wanted to reassure the public that unsafe vaccines are not being rushed out.
“There have been no corners cut by the FDA on safety of developing these vaccines,” Collins said. “I’ll be first in line to get one when they are released.”
There are currently four U.S. companies in Phase 3 of vaccine trials, the final phase before they can be submitted for FDA approval, with Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson all working towards a viable vaccine, according to CNN reports on Thursday.
While both AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson have paused their trials due to participants falling ill, Collins said that that isn’t unexpected and happens in many trials.
The federal government has invested in making millions of doses of all of those vaccines, Collins added, so if one or more of them are proven effective, they are already warehoused and ready to be shipped out.
While he was sympathetic that the pandemic is tiring for everyone, Favro impressed the fact that the only way that the region will get through this will be together.
“This virus is impacting each and every one of us, whether you want to believe it or not,” Favro said. “We will be successful, and we will get through these challenging times, but we need to be able to do it together as a team, so that we can work together and help each other get to the other side.”
The sheriff’s department is not looking to make arrests, Favro said, but if people willfully ignore protective regulations like a 50-person group limit, the department will take action.
“Make no mistake, that as your chief law enforcement officer in this county, if we have to enforce regulations and laws for non-believers, we will do that,” Favro said. “I’m not posing that as a threat to anyone, I’m promising that I took an oath to protect and serve all residents and guests of Clinton County, and that’s exactly what my team is going to do.”
Favro stated that the department has received several calls about political rallies in the past few weeks, often on Route 3 near the Market 32 shopping center, but that they have all had mid-thirties to low forties of people in attendance.
Still, though, he thinks that people should think twice about attending events like that.
“The science is very clear: minimizing the risk (of spread) is the smart thing to do,” Favro said. “If people choose to get into a large-scale social gathering like that, it’s like being dropped off in the middle of the ocean and swimming at the sharks and hoping you don’t get bit.”
The health department's Principal Public Health Educator, Jennifer Trudeau, said she believed that 60 active cases on April 6, when considering both active lab-confirmed positive and probable cases, was the highest that the county had ever hit during the pandemic.
Until recently, Clinton County has had less than 20 active cases at one time since the end of May 2020, she added.
As the colder months approach, it’s not entirely unusual to see an increase in cases, the health officials said.
“The reason that we would expect more cases is because we’re all going to be indoors, and we can’t socially distance in the same way,” Collins said. “It’s more conducive for the virus to last longer in colder temperatures, like a lot of respiratory viruses.”
There were more people inherently socially distancing by taking part in outdoor activities this summer, leading to lower numbers, Kanoza added, saying that schools, colleges and senior homes will continue to be a big focus in the months ahead with more people heading indoors.
“We urge residents to not become complacent in their daily activities,” Kanoza said. “We need all of you to remember the hard work and sacrifices you all have made over the last several months, and to keep practicing the protective safety measures you’ve been doing all along.”