Orange County: Call, don’t go to your health care provider

Goshen. Orange County on Wednesday reported its first case of coronavirus. As the number of cases of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, continues to climb statewide and nationally, local officials stressed the importance of consulting with health care providers remotely before seeking in-person care for flu-like symptoms. On Saturday, the sheriff suspended visits to the county jail to protect staff and inmates.

Goshen /
10 Mar 2020 | 02:32

If you have flu-like symptoms, call, don’t go to your health care provider – at least not right away.

That’s the message health care professionals want to get through to the public when it comes to the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.

“We want to keep this away from the hospitals,” said Dr. Avi Silber, Cornerstone Family Healthcare Chief Medical Officer at a roundtable discussion on the virus. “We need to slow this epidemic down so we’re not overwhelming the health centers and the hospitals at one time. We want to keep it all in the outpatient as much as possible.”

Held March 6 at the Orange County Emergency Services Center in Goshen, health officials and federal and local representatives stressed the importance of consulting with health care providers remotely before seeking care in person during the discussion.

Silber said meeting people at their cars or using mobile health vans are options in providing care for those who need it.

St. Luke’s Cornwall Emergency Department Medical Director Dr. Evan Cohen said 911 is screening callers for COVID-19 symptoms.

“We can get that heads-up to expect a patient who may need isolation, and we’re ready to put those patients in isolation and contact health departments to do testing appropriately,” he said.

Getting health information from a reputable source is also critical.

“Make sure it’s coming from the World Health Organization, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) or your local health departments, so you have a proper source,” said Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus. “We had a meeting yesterday of the Orange County Legislature, and five of those 21 members came up to me after the meeting and said, ‘I heard a rumor, from a rumor, from somebody that said this.’ If it starts like that, you know it’s bogus.”

Orange County Health Commissioner Dr. Irina Gelman said the health care system is pivoting – from containment and prevention to "battling the sustained spread of COVID-19 in the community and risk mitigating strategies."

Just a week earlier, when Gelman first announced the county's planning efforts, New York State had no reported cases. At the time of the roundtable there were 44 confirmed cases in the state. On March 7, there were 76 cases, prompting Gov. Andrew Cuomo to declare a state of emergency. As of March 10, there were 173 confirmed cases in the state, including six in Rockland County, which borders Orange County. Other cases are distributed as follows: Westchester, 108; Nassau County, 19; Saratoga County, 2; Suffolk County, 1; Ulster County, 1; and New York City, 36.

U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-18, said the situation is continually evolving.

“We have a very small number of known cases in the Hudson Valley,” he said. “None, as far as I know, as of this morning, in Orange County or in Dutchess County, but all of us expect that we will see additional cases of coronavirus here in our own communities.”

Money allocated to fight the virus

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a $40 million emergency management authorization March 3 to fund efforts at the state level.

On March 7, Cuomo declared a state of emergency to allow a faster response to the novel coronavirus by lifting regulations.

During the roundtable, Maloney said $8.3 billion in federal funds was authorized to fight COVID-19, after the bipartisan funding bill was signed by President Donald Trump.

“I was very glad to see the funding package and specifically that it includes a provision for telehealth and remote access services,” Dr. Gelman said. “That was imperative for battling any outbreak, specifically this one.”

Neuhaus said he is in constant contact with municipal leaders throughout the county and communicates regularly with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“I do believe it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Neuhaus said. “The way to confront that is to be prepared.”

Sheriff suspends jail visits

On Saturday, March 7, Sheriff Carl DuBois said he is temporarily suspending visits to the Orange County Correctional Facility to protect both inmates and staff. He said he made the decision in consultation with Dr. Gelman.

Clergy and attorneys who need access to inmates should call 845-291-7682 to make appointments for admittance, DuBois said. "Arrangements for such visits remain at the discretion of the sheriff based on health-related circumstances as the sheriff may reasonably fix," the announcement from his office said.

The Sheriff’s Office is also exploring the possibility of offering internet-based video visits.

Additional information may be found through the sheriff’s social media pages, the Renovo site, or local press outlets.

Class may not be in session

Faced with the increasing possibility of closure due to COVID-19, local school systems have been getting ready and putting contingency plans in place.

On Monday, March 16, the Warwick Valley Central School District will be dismissing early Superintendent of Schools Dr. David Leach said on the district’s web site Wednesday. The middle school and high school will dismiss at 10:30 a.m. and the elementary schools will dismiss at 11:35 a.m.

In New Jersey, West Milford students were dismissed from all district schools early Tuesday to give teachers time to work out lesson plans for if and when students are unable to attend classes in person, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Alex Anemone said.

Plans include the use of Google Chromebooks and a number of online platforms to provide instruction for students at home, Anemone said.

Newton, New Jersey schools will operate on an early dismissal schedule on Friday, March 13 and Monday, March 16 to give staff “the opportunity to plan for up to two weeks of guided learning experiences in case a health-related school closure should become necessary” the district’s web site said.

The epidemic spreads

According to the World Health Organization, the novel coronavirus has killed more than 4,012 people and infected more than 113,702 as of Tuesday morning.

Five new countries/territories/areas have reported cases of COVID-19, according to the WHO, including Brunei Darussalam, Mongolia, Cyprus, Guernsey and Panama.

In the United States, as of Tuesday, the case total is 938 across 39 states, including the District of Columbia, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been 29 deaths nationwide, the CDC said. The numbers continue to rise.