MONTICELLO, NY — Representatives from the Division of Health and Family Services updated the Sullivan County Legislature on the county’s progress in dealing with COVID-19 in a Thursday, …
MONTICELLO, NY — Representatives from the Division of Health and Family Services updated the Sullivan County Legislature on the county’s progress in dealing with COVID-19 in a Thursday, December 9 committee meeting.
“Folks are asking the question, “If vaccines work, why are so many people getting infected right now?,” said Health and Family Services commissioner John Liddle. “That’s a legitimate question, although most folks probably don’t want to know the answer.
“The answer is that we have stopped as a county wearing masks, social distancing and doing the community protective measures that we need to watch out for each other.”
While he did not believe mask mandates to be the best public policy solution, Liddle added, he would encourage everyone to wear masks while indoors to protect themselves and their neighbors.
The county’s Public Health Services department released an advisory on December 7 from public health director Nancy McGraw, stating that she “strongly encourages all residents [to] wear masks in public indoor spaces and strongly urges employers to require employees to wear masks when indoors.”
A statewide mask mandate came later that week, as Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on December 10 that masks would be required in all indoor public places unless businesses or venues implemented a vaccine requirement. The mandate is effective from Monday, December 13 to Saturday, January 15.
“The way out of this is vaccination,” McGraw said at the December 9 committee meetings. “And we’re going to say that and promote that until we get tired of hearing it.”
The county had 73 percent of its 18-and-up population vaccinated with at least one dose, said McGraw. That figure was 61 percent for the total population of the county, but that was a less useful number because children younger than five were still ineligable.
The county was focusing on pediatric vaccines, she said; 26 percent of new cases in the last three months had been in schools. The department was working with school districts to register children for pediatric vaccine clinics, with clinics open to any five- to 11-year old in the county.
“If the goal is to keep the economy open and workplaces open and the other goal… is to keep us all, the majority of us, as safe and healthy as possible, vaccination and wearing masks consistently and correctly indoors in enclosed spaces is what we need to continue doing and working on for the next several months,” said McGraw.
Public Health Services was also concerned about the possibility of a bad flu season, said McGraw. Because people had been wearing masks and social distancing in 2020, and because schools and the economy had been shut down, the flu had essentially disappeared. With children back in schools, with the economy running and with fewer people wearing masks, the flu could come back with a vengeance.
McGraw encouraged everyone to get the word about about the importance and availability of vaccination. “We are all leaders, we are all friends and family and we do things in the community—we can all do things to spread the word.”
Legislator Luis Alvarez, vice-chair of the health and family services committee, said that from what he had heard, there was a shortage of health care staff at the moment. Those shortages couldn’t be fixed with outside contractors, because even those contractors didn’t have personnel.
In his experience, there came a day working in the medical profession when staff would simply shut down from exhaustion, said Alvarez. He asked how the public health department was doing in terms of staff.
We feel very supported in staff, said McGraw. Two vacancies needed to be filled, but otherwise the department was doing well.
“How are they doing up here?” asked Alvarez, indicating his head.
“Up here? That’s another story,” said McGraw. She said that her staff had been working in difficult times for three years, with a measles outbreak having preceded COVID-19. “Are they a hundred percent? No. We’re all exhausted.”
But staff members were very supportive of one another, she said. “Our staff are very resilient, very tough, very dedicated to the community, and we’ll be OK.”
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