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Swinehart’s COVID message to Seneca County: “We’re going the wrong direction”

Vickie Swinehart at the Board of Supervisors Meeting held in March, before COVID restrictions went into effect. Photo by Greg Cotterill, of Finger Lakes News Radio.

Things are not going the right direction in Seneca County.

Public Health Director Vickie Swinehart addressed the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, issuing a grim outlook for how things may go for the rural municipality  if COVID cases do not decline soon.

In October there were 41 total cases. That was considered a significant increase over September and August. However, November has seen caseload skyrocket – as 61 new cases were identified in the first nine days of November.

Swinehart said that Halloween contributed, but dinner parties, small gatherings, and other ‘household’ events where families, friends, and neighbors were getting together prompted the increase.

“We’ve got to be vigilant,” she reminded the supervisors. “I’m very fearful of what’s going to happen after the holidays. Maybe consider getting together via Skype. We have 200 to 300 people in quarantine — that’s a lot of people.”

At the end of the day, Swinehart wants to see people ‘think’ before they go places. Even if it’s to a small gathering at a friends house — it can cause community spread, which will have major impacts on the way Seneca County does business moving forward.

“We’re going the wrong direction,” Swinehart continued. The County’s positive rate has been hovering just below 5%. If it stays above 4% for 10 days consecutively, then Seneca will be eligible for ‘yellow zone’ restrictions. Monroe and Onondaga counties were just placed into this category on Monday by Governor Andrew Cuomo. “We’re going to have to tolerate quarantine or we’ll be shut down,” she added. “We’re going to get there eventually if our numbers continue to increase.”

For Seneca County and a prospective ‘yellow zone’ label, Swinehart is worried about schools’ ability to maintain testing requirements. The state’s ‘yellow zone’ criteria requires that schools test 20% of staff and students weekly to remain open. If students or faculty opt-out then they must learn remotely.

Some districts are already struggling with staffing challenges associated with COVID-19 and necessary quarantines.

Beyond the forecasting of future COVID restrictions, Swinehart says ensuring that people are honest with contact tracers is paramount. “Please encourage everyone to be honest with contact tracers when they call,” she said. “Yes, quarantine is inconvenient, but it’s to help keep the County safe.” She implied during the update that some are withholding information about various contacts that they have had when contacted by the health department. “It makes the job we’re doing more difficult, and puts the community at risk if we’re not honest with contact tracers.”