(WBNG) – The coronavirus has been a part of our lives in the United States since January 20, 2020.
Since then, we’ve seen mass testing with isolation orders, large-scale vaccination clinics, mask requirements and more. Local experts say while much has changed, the virus remains in our communities.
“We, like most of the United States and the nation and the world, didn’t really know what we were dealing with,” said Mary McFadden, director of public health at Broome Co.
“In 2020, when this was a completely unknown virus, I would say there was a lot of fear and trepidation about what we were dealing with,” said UHS Hospitaller Program Director, Dr. Jeffrey Gray.
“We realized fairly quickly that it was a matter of time. It wasn’t if, it was when we would see our first case,” said Isaiah Sutton, director of public health at Chenango Co., “From that first day, we prepared to go ahead with our plans. If you had told me two years later that we were still doing this process, I would have been quite surprised.”
The Southern Tier saw its first confirmed case of coronavirus on March 14, 2020 in Tioga County.
“Those early days, before we had a vaccine available, were definitely one of the most difficult times for our community,” said Kylie Holochak, senior public educator for Tioga County.
Almost overnight, local health departments and hospitals became the epicenter of information and treatment for the novel virus.
“One of our biggest challenges was trying to be the source of answers when there were very few answers,” Sutton said. “Science changed very quickly. Our knowledge of the virus sometimes changed hourly, government guidelines changing differently in the morning than in the afternoon.”
“Essentially, in 2020, the hospital had to transform itself on the fly,” said Dr. Gray, “Because this is an airborne virus we didn’t have the infrastructure to ensure we were able to put almost all of the rooms into reverse isolation. This means we can prevent the virus from spreading to others rooms of the hospital.”
“There were times when we didn’t perform elective surgeries, and that allowed us to reallocate some of the clinical staff to other tasks,” said Dr. Michael Scalzone, Chief Medical Officer of the Guthrie Clinic. “There were times when there was so much non-COVID care needed that we had to bring people in from other locations and bring them to clinical care.”
Local health departments became responsible for enforcing state guidelines, including isolation orders, mask requirements and contact tracing, while also performing their other duties.
“I think a lot of people forget that public health departments do more than just communicable diseases,” Holochak said. “We monitor all of our restaurants that are open, we help our children who get early intervention services, when we have rabies screening, we do that, we really do everything and these were the same staff that were doing these types of jobs that were doing COVID-19. “
When the vaccine became available to the majority of the population by 2021, those same health departments had a new job.
“Permanent public health drills for these public health and firearms emergencies were our goal when it became available to all those entitled,” McFadden said over.
Meanwhile, hospitals have developed new tools to care for patients and strengthened their relationships with local health authorities and each other.
“We almost had to turn on a dime and start using telemedicine as an almost exclusive means of caring for people outside of the office, since doctors weren’t allowed to go to their homes and the public was definitely afraid to enter doctors’ offices. So we could aggressively pursue that option,” said Gray. “We’ve been recognized and certified as a national telemedicine provider, one of the first in the country to receive this recognition.”
“We have what is called home hospital care where we’re trying to get your care out of the hospital as quickly as possible and/or discourage you from even getting into the hospital,” Gray said. “Using the telemedicine portal, doctors and nurses check you in remotely and then make regular visits to a home nurse just to make sure you’re effectively getting better in your own home.”
“There’s a wonderful connection with public health that just wasn’t as strong three years ago,” Scalzone said. “We learned from them, they from us and we work much better together. And then at the actual facilities that you might call our competitors, there was so much collaboration and so much discussion about what you and we have to deal with. Let’s make sure we look at this together.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is now entering its third year.
“We’re definitely seeing the Omicron surge and it’s picking up speed everywhere,” McFadden said. “To say that we are in the endemic phase would not put us there just yet. Because it’s so unknown, this virus can mutate very quickly, keeping us on our toes. COVID is not behind us and we must learn to live with it.”
While most testing is now done at home, authorities are finding new ways to track COVID-19 infection.
“Some of the treatment plants are testing the wastewater for COVID, which is a very novel monitoring method that we hope to scale up locally,” Sutton said. “I see it as a really great way to keep our finger on the pulse of activity in the community.”
“If we see a large number of cases, but most of them are very mild cases and we don’t really see the hospitalizations and deaths, from the health department’s perspective, we’re not going to act on it as quickly. Holochak said, “when we see people getting seriously ill, we see these hospital admissions, we see these deaths, that’s where we have to step back and take those actions.”
The health authorities continue to prepare for the next steps.
“I fully expect that we will have regular vaccinations, whether yearly or every two years, similar to a flu shot, time will tell, the science is still working on that,” Sutton said, “but I see that we there is a role to play in education, prevention and response in the future, but not the cumbersome regulated approach we initially took.”
“Our eyes are really on hospitalizations,” McFadden said, “to make sure we don’t overwhelm our hospitals and to send messages when we see there could be an uptick and to be able to help hospitals manage theirs.” maintain staffing levels and maintain their operations.”
Hospitals say they continue to collect new tools to treat viral infections.
“There was a time when so-called monoclonal antibodies were the most effective and available treatment, but as variants changed, these became ineffective,” said Scalzone.
They also attribute changes in COVID hospitalization trends to the vaccine.
“We have a lot fewer patients who are on ventilators or need a significant amount of oxygen,” Scalzone said, “we have people in the hospital, but they’re not as critically ill as they were before.”
“If you were to come into the hospital and take a sample of who is actually in the hospital with actual COVID, it would be the ones who are unvaccinated, unboosted, and if you’re unvaccinated, there’s a high probability you’re in intensive care, which is obviously not where we want you to be,” Gray said. “So if I could make one request of the community, it would be to please get vaccinated.”
“Healthcare systems are now much better prepared to take care of it,” Scalzone said, “as time goes by, we’re going to learn more about this virus and we’re going to learn more about how to treat it and how to treat its consequences.” but it will take a while.”
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