Heroic Health Department staff take no days off

Above, Oswego County Health Department staff take a minute to regroup through the long days and weeks of their growing COVID-19 investigations. Pictured seated from left are: Tammy Adydan, Jennifer Purtell, Tina Bourgeois and Emily Boyle. Pictured standing from left are Penny Murphy-Potter, Trish Eggleton, Anna Reitz, Diane Oldenburg, David Wing, Chantel Eckert, Debbi Murray, Jodi Martin and Tammy Thompson.

OSWEGO COUNTY — Health professionals across the country, around the world and even right here at home are all putting their lives on hold – and at risk – to combat COVID-19. Their dedication to the health and well-being of Oswego County residents is unshakable.

“Public health is not a 9 to 5 job; we know this,” said Oswego County Public Health Director Jiancheng Huang. “Even so, our team is diligently working to track the virus and help protect our families, friends and neighbors. Some on the team are volunteers and many others have not had a day off in weeks. Yet, they return every day without complaint and we are so grateful for their perseverance.”

COVID-19 is on the rise as shown by the dramatic increase in cumulative positive cases since Halloween. On Oct. 30, there were 780 total cases, and as of Nov. 25, there were 1,606. It took eight months to reach 800 cases, and now Oswego County has nearly doubled that number in less than a month.

“The COVID-19 virus is now rampant throughout our county,” said Oswego County Legislature Chairman James Weatherup. “The nurses and staff in our health department — along with volunteers and other county employees — are all working tirelessly to keep us safe and provide us with guidance and necessary government services at this critical time.”

“This Thanksgiving holiday let’s all take a minute to be grateful for the work that they are doing,” Weatherup added. “Remember that, while you are enjoying a turkey feast with the members of your household, many of them are still on the front lines working to protect our residents.”

Since the pandemic started, COVID-19 investigators have been tracking positive cases to find out how they are connected and how the virus moves from person to person. Until recently, they were able to identify how new cases were related to others. However, positive cases have increased at a such a high rate in the last few weeks, their connections to other cases or clusters have become less defined; indicating that the virus is not only widespread, but fast-moving.

“COVID-19 is spreading at an alarming rate in our county,” said Oswego County Legislator James Karasek, chairman of the Legislature’s Health Committee. “Health department staff are working seven days a week to investigate cases as quickly as possible in an effort to stay ahead of the virus and keep it from spreading. Other departments are providing support; however, disease investigation is an expertise that cannot be quickly taught, so we are still significantly stretched trying to keep up with the virus at this current rate.”

It takes a special type of person to work in public health, and each of the nursing professionals has their own reason for the work they do.

For Public Health Nurse Debbi Murray, nursing is a career that spans generations; her daughter Jessie volunteers at the County Health Department on days off from her hospital nursing position.

“Our Health Department staff are working many hours to investigate COVID-19 cases in our community,” said Murray. “My daughter Jessie is an RN who works on a hospital COVID unit. She came with me to learn and assist investigating cases as a community service to our county. I am proud of my daughter for taking the nurse profession. It was a new experience for me to work with my daughter side-by-side.”

Senior LPN Tina Bourgeois provides reassurance to patients. “People get very scared when they find out that they are positive for COVID-19, and I take great pleasure in calming them down and talking them off the ledge,” said Bourgeois.  

Public Health Nurse Jennifer Purtell said the public health field “is a rewarding career that offers an opportunity to improve the lives of future generations by promoting and protecting the health of residents in our community.  I love my work, the variety, and the satisfaction of helping the people where I live.”    

Last spring, in the early days of the pandemic, local nurses and residents joined forces with county employees from other departments to jump in and help wherever they could. Much of the assistance went to the then-newly established COVID-19 hotline where volunteers manned the phones and responded to frequently asked questions from the public. Volunteer nurses helped provide answers to more involved health questions and concerns.

With the drastic increase in cases these last few weeks, this joint effort helps the health department’s preventive nurses and investigators who are working every day to trace positive cases, reach out to close contacts and protect the community.

 Still, the biggest help needs to come from the community itself. Public support for public health is the most important step in combating this pandemic.”

For more information about Oswego County’s COVID-19 response, go to oswegocounty.com or health.oswegocounty.com/covid-19.

Additional questions can be directed to the Oswego County Health Department COVID-19 Hotline at 315-349-3330 from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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