By Joshua Maloni
As downstate New York continues to see a plateau in the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, and less coronavirus-related deaths each day, the New York City area is rapidly approaching its pandemic apex.
Niagara County isn’t quite moving that fast.
So said Public Health Director Daniel Stapleton while appearing Monday afternoon on Niagara County Legislature Chairwoman Becky Wydysh’s LCTV update.
“I think we're basically about two to three weeks behind downstate,” he said. “When the governor says the numbers for them are plateauing, that's not true here. The numbers continue to increase. And we believe that our surge is on right now. Our numbers are increasing dramatically. But we also feel we're not at the peak yet.
“We hope that we reach the peak at a point where the hospitals are not overwhelmed in Niagara County. We don't want the surge of patients – the apex, if you will – to negatively impact the hospitals in terms of their functioning of their hospital.
“So, I think we're a little bit behind. The key is, people need to make sure they're following the social distancing guidelines. They need to stay home; they need to only go out for the most essential things they have – and that's food. They shouldn't be going out for any other reason. They need to make sure that they're staying home, self-isolating.
“My concern is that, if people don't continue to stay home – they don't self-isolate, they don't wash their hands, because they think it's over – that the virus is going to continue to increase in this area, and will overwhelm the hospital, the local health department, the health care system. People need to follow through with this.
“If we let our guard down now, the virus can come on even stronger in a second wave. And we want to make sure that the people who are not weakened from the first wave aren't put in dire straits if a second wave comes.
“We're still at the point where we haven't reached our peak yet here. I hope we're getting close to that. I think we really have had the ability to flatten the curve. We're doing as much testing as we possibly can. The testing has increased … and will continue to increase. But it's important that people know that they need to make sure they're following this social distancing; they're doing the things that they need to do.
“When you look at the information we have, 925 tests have been performed in Niagara County. We need to get much, much higher – two or three times that – before we can adequately say, ‘Yes, the worst is over.’ ”
Stapleton again reiterated, “Testing has been a challenge for us right from the very beginning, and continues to be a challenge. If people remember, I ordered 1,500 testing kits about six weeks ago. I received 100 of those testing kits. So, testing is still very limited. We were able to get those hundred, those hundred are going specifically for the first-responders, health care workers, pregnant women, people that are most at risk for (coronavirus).
“So, we're doing those. We're doing drive-thru sampling activities in order to have the first-responders, police, fire, EMTs, coroners have them being able to make sure that they are diagnosed, if they have any symptoms.
“So far, we've been fortunate that we haven't had a lot of positives from our first-responders and our health care workers. But we want to make sure that the testing is available exclusively for them. And that's why, with 100 test kits – and we got a few more from a local hospital partner – we want to make sure that those are very pinpoint, in terms of who they're dedicated to.”
Wydysh said, “The governor … mentioned this morning in his press conference that New York state has reached now over 10,000 COVID-19-related deaths. Yet we see the hospitalization rates continuing on a downward trend, which is a good thing. He stated that if – and this is a big if – we continue to follow our distancing policies in the ‘New York on PAUSE,’ everyone's staying home, that the worst is probably over.
“But he also stated – and this needs to be said time and again – that the public really following those (safe at home restrictions) will help to lower the trajectory of that spread.”
She added, “I know that here we've said it time and again that we believe we are slightly behind the timeframe of the downstate area – that we won't see our peaks and surges until slightly after they have. So, again, I think we need to remind all of our viewers that, even if you're hearing that we are flattening the curve, it's because these social distancing, physical distancing guidelines are being followed – and that is certainly helping the situation.
“And the worst thing that we can do is to revert back immediately to our normal lives. We can't just send everyone right back, or we'll see that second surge, or peak.”