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Local pandemic response is not improving

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Local government, healthcare leadership, and everyday citizens continue to disappoint as pandemic peaks

By Andrew Harris

Forgive the critical nature of this editorial, it is the opinion of one person, but one who has been paying attention from the onset, and paying close attention since March 1st, 2021. The criticism is not levied at any one person, or even one institution, but at the bigger picture effort that appears to be digressing just as infection rates swell.

Yesterday we reported the latest public data on infection rates, over half those tested on January 9th were infected with Covid-19. At the very least, the current rolling average of infection rates in Allegany County is 22.5% using one week of testing data. On a personal note, I’ve never known more people to be infected at any point during the pandemic.

Recently, our county government sponsored an effort to distribute masks at various locations. The effort was advertised over the last week and in Wellsville, about a dozen citizens arrived to stock up on masks and tests. Arriving in temperatures near zero, the host location, the David A Howe Library was still locked. Laurie Senn Sagerman and her friends were not impressed.

“No representative from the Health Department, no information on vaccines, no information on boosters, no information for parents on information for their children, no information that it is a one time use mask…….nothing but two masks and two tests, the masks were not even in a sanitary package,” said Sagerman.

The effort by the county seems token, almost oblivious to reality. Allegany County is famous for being the least vaccinated in the state, also well-know for the resistance to wearing masks inside. While I applaud the idea to provide masks and testing for residents, but two masks and two tests is not enough to last the day.

With the new guidance from medical professionals, these masks should not be reused. Those same professionals tell us that the at-home testing should be done in at least tandem, best in triplicate. To be effective N-95 masks should be worn and discarded. The N-95 masks appear to be much more effective against the newest, highly contagious variant.

In the end, Allegany Counties latest effort to mitigate the infection rate is half-hearted at best, as a new peak in illness from Covid-19 has arrived, as predicted. Here are a few masks and a pair of tests. No push to get people vaccinated or boosted ? No public education effort to counter vaccine hesitancy? No instructions on how to get more masks, testing kits, or how to report test results using the brand new online reporting system?

It would have been the perfect time to offer vaccinations, maybe even offer incentives as my December 20th opinion piece suggested.

Those who came to get two masks and two tests might have participated in a query about the county response to the pandemic. I would have asked why they didn’t just have county wide vaccine/testing/supply clinics? Why not provide a incentive for the economically depressed population who have not been vaccinated? Why not be as effective as possible ?

It isn’t about the cost, the federal government allotted Allegany County 9 million dollars to combat the pandemic. Is it really just a lack of political will?

Based on the reaction to “The Sun Proposal,” which was soundly rejected on principle, that is the only reason this inaction makes sense. The Allegany County Health Department had this to say about the idea:

The wrong message from the county would be to pay residents to get vaccinated.”

Is the right message a couple exposed masks and two at-home Covid tests?

The government response wasn’t the only lackluster performance this week.

Jones Memorial Hospital sponsored an online, “Covid-19 town hall meeting” on Facebook yesterday afternoon. The event was publicized but only about forty viewers attended the live broadcast. Most, like me, tried to watch and listen but the volume was so low even when you, “turn the volume up,” as suggested, it wasn’t audible. That was not the only major technical issue, and I’ll leave it at that. To put it bluntly, the message was not communicated well which is a shame. Jones Memorial Hospital declined to publicly support, “The Sun Proposal” last month.

Considering both circumstances, both specific efforts to combat Covid-19: What was accomplished? Allegany County provided a group of residents contaminated masks and two rapid tests. Jones Memorial Hospital attempted to hold a live public forum, but it was largely inaudible. The archived video on the Facebook page still is very hard to hear, limiting its reach. The Allegany county residents who do not use Facebook will never see the video.

I certainly don’t intend to blame the people serving in our government, or our healthcare system which is moving mountains and performing miracles everyday. The only true blame I can caste is on those who refuse to personally contribute toward ending this public health crisis. We have two tools, masks and vaccines in order to manage community spread, hospitalization, and death.

For you the group that isn’t vaccinated and does not or does not want to wear a mask in public: Your inaction has created a burden for your fellow citizens, government, and healthcare system. The political nature of the conversation has tainted the medical realities and allowed misinformation to spread. That inaction will marginalize Allegany County in the future and will cause additional unnecessary deaths.

Medical experts are now watching the Covid-19 pandemic become endemic, like the common cold or influenza. That endemic state will create epidemics, or localized outbreaks of the virus. Populations with the lowest vaccination rates will very likely be the most impacted by future epidemics. Beside the loss of life; our economy will suffer, education will be disrupted, and those who have pre-existing conditions will continue to live in fear.

Unless our local government and healthcare systems can better coordinate, be more aggressive, and execute on a plan, Allegany County’s residents, businesses, schools, and future will be be clouded by Covid-19. Please do your part to avoid this future: Get vaccinated, wear a mask in public, and test often to avoid spreading the virus.

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