Syracuse, N.Y. – The novel coronavirus has spread so far and so fast that government officials can no longer isolate sick and exposed people fast enough to keep it in check.
We’re on our own now to notify people who should quarantine. If we wait for an official notice from a contact tracer, it’s likely to be too late.
Facing a deluge of cases, Onondaga County’s health commissioner this week asked the public for help. Dr. Indu Gupta urged people to isolate themselves if they feel sick — and to encourage their contacts to quarantine — even before getting coronavirus test results.
The virus is so prevalent now that waiting for test results or a call from government contact tracers can give the virus too much of a head start to continue spreading, Gupta said Wednesday.
She urged residents to take the initiative to quarantine themselves if they were exposed to someone who is sick. Oneida County officials made a similar plea this week after daily cases nearly doubled there.
“Our system is getting overwhelmed with the numbers,” said Anthony Picente, the Oneida County executive.
With coronavirus surging, health departments are falling behind.
Test results are getting backed up and county health investigators are swamped with potentially infected people to contact, Gupta said. Some tests now take as long as seven to 10 days for results, she said.
Anyone with symptoms should assume they have Covid-19, she said.
“Anyone who is considering testing or has gone for testing, because of their own concern, whether for exposure or because they have symptoms, they really should consider themselves positive,’’ Gupta said.
She urged people who feel sick to alert anyone with whom they have been in close contact and tell them to assume they are in quarantine. Health officials will follow up to confirm as soon as they can, Gupta said.
“Contact them and tell them that you should consider yourself in a self-quarantine, and monitor your symptoms,’’ Gupta said. “Once we get the results, of course, then we do that investigation.’’
Onondaga County officials reported 270 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, another record in a month full of records. They confirmed 213 more cases today. Oneida County officials on Tuesday reported 214 new cases, nearly double the record set a week earlier.
As county health departments get bogged down with cases, contact tracers sometimes don’t reach exposed individuals who should quarantine until the 14-day period is nearly over.
Helen “Pinkie” Kiggins Walsh, a seasonal employee at the Onondaga County Board of Elections, was sent home Nov. 13 along with dozens of election workers and observers after someone at the board tested positive. But she did not get notified to stay in quarantine until Nov. 21.
Her husband, who also was exposed at the Board of Elections, was told to quarantine by a contact tracer Tuesday, Kiggins Walsh said. His two-week quarantine period ends Friday.
When the health department staffers put someone in quarantine, they send an official document signed by Gupta. But Gupta doesn’t want people to wait for that.
School districts often are able to notify the families of children or teachers who may have been exposed to Covid-19 long before the health department gets to them, Gupta said. School officials often will send a sample copy of the county’s quarantine order to those individuals, before the county follows up with the real thing.
Gupta said people should view the notice from the school as an official order to quarantine.
“Please think your quarantine started that day you got the letter from the superintendent,’’ she said. “That is so crucial. We will contact them as soon as we can … but we don’t want any dead space, no time in between.”
Experts warn that Covid-19 is likely to continue spreading as cold weather settles in. To resist that will require individuals to voluntarily quarantine if they are exposed to the virus, Gupta said.
“(The) health of the community is literally in your hands,” Gupta said.
MORE ON CORONAVIRUS
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