Coronavirus testing ongoing in Oswego County

Oswego County Medical Director Dr. Christina Liepke speaks during Tuesday's press conference as Mayor Billy Barlow looks on.

Testing process starts with primary care doc, health officials say

OSWEGO — Local health officials on Tuesday said nearly a dozen individuals in Oswego County have been tested for the novel coronavirus, and the county does have the capacity to meet the demand for testing those with symptoms of COVID-19.

Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow called a press conference Tuesday afternoon at the Oswego Fire Department (OFD) headquarters with local health officials to update the community on the local response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Flanked by officials from the health, emergency response and business communities, Barlow urged residents to remain calm as health officials provided an update on the medical community’s preparations.

“I urge our constituents and our neighbors to express calm and be calm,” Barlow said. “We saw this coming about a month ago, even beyond that, and we started preparing then, so that when the day came we were ready to make this transition and make it seamlessly.”

Oswego County Medical Director Dr. Christina Liepke called the COVID-19 pandemic an “unprecedented time.” Liepke said local health care workers across the county are “on the front lines to help prevent and detect the virus” to reduce it’s impact on the community.

Liepke noted one of the most pressing concerns of individuals’ is whether or not testing is appropriate and how to seek testing if they have potentially been exposed to the virus. Oswego County Senior Health Educator Dianne Oldenburg said there are testing locations available in the county by appointment.

“Folks who think they should be tested should contact their primary care provider and they will make those determinations and get them tested if it’s warranted,” Oldenburg said.

Health officials said individuals who have symptoms, such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing should reach out to their primary care physician or the county Health Department. Oldenburg said health officials are still considering individuals’ recent travel history, but as the virus spreads that information “is a little murkier day-by-day.”

Dr. Michael Stephens, associate chief medical officer at Oswego Health, said Oswego Hospital, along with several other local medical organizations and offices have the capacity to perform the testing for the coronavirus.

Though a number of individuals in Oswego County have been tested for the coronavirus, officials said as of Tuesday afternoon there were no confirmed cases of the virus in the county. Stephens said fewer than 10 individuals in the county have been tested, and there are currently enough tests in the county to last “weeks.”

Despite the possibility individuals could be carrying the virus without exhibiting symptoms, health officials say everyone should not rush out and get tested. Stephens said “100 percent for sure” individuals should not ask to be tested unless they are showing symptoms or may have been exposed to the virus.

“That is not the message that any medical facility at a state or county level has ever asked to do,” Stephens said, noting officials in Oswego County are using the same screening process as health officials in areas with active cases of the coronavirus.

Health officials urged individuals who aren’t feeling well to contact their primary care physician rather than show up unannounced at emergency rooms and urgent care facilities.

“It’s important to call ahead of time rather than coming directly to a medical facility,” Liepke said. “Calling ahead allows us to direct you to the most appropriate care and allows precautions, if necessary, to protect yourself, other patients and the health care providers.”

Individuals who do not have a primary care provider, but believe they may have COVID-19 or been exposed to someone with the virus can call the Oswego County Health Department at 315-349-3330. Oldenburg said the county Health Department can provide the necessary screening and arrange testing for individuals who do not have a primary care physician.

Leaders across the country are bringing attention to the need to “flatten the curve,” a term used to denote slowing the spread of the virus to avoid overwhelming the hospital system. Oswego Health officials said they are is prepared to expand its number of intensive care units if necessary.

There are no plans at this time to increase capacity or create temporary medical facilities, but officials said discussions on how and where to do so have been ongoing.

Oldenburg said surge capacity for local hospitals is something emergency and health officials have had in place for many years, and those blueprints could be used to guide any expansion that might be necessary due to COVID-19.

Oswego Fire Department Chief Randy Griffin noted additional resources must be directed to areas with the highest need, and with no confirmed cases in Oswego County at the moment, it’s not prudent to ramp up capacity and possibly divert resources from high-need areas.

Barlow urged individuals to take the situation seriously and continue following the guidelines and advice of medical professionals, as well as stay up to date on the latest information. Barlow also asked people to obey the rules and guidelines, such as limiting large gatherings and practicing social distancing, set by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus.

“Those restrictions are put in place for a reason,” the mayor said. “It’s serious and it will save us all a lot of time and aggravation in the long run.”

Everyone can play a part in preventing the further spread of COVID-19 and other viruses, Liepke said, reminding individuals to wash their hands often with soap and water, cover coughs and sneeze and stay home if you’re sick. She said, however, it is still appropriate for individuals to take a walk or play outside with children, and urged people to work together as a community.

“We will get through this together,” Liepke said. “We are all neighbors and friends, so let us continue to act like that and be kind to each other.”

Griffin said OFD officials are practicing caution with certain emergency responses and screening potential patients on their conditions before making contact, as well as using personal protective equipment.

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