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Swinehart: Seneca County has more COVID cases in November than rest of pandemic combined

Seneca County Public Health Director Vickie Swinehart took a more direct, blunt tone with the community-at-large at the Board of Supervisors’ monthly committee meetings.

The Health and Human Services Committee met for the sole purpose of receiving an update from Swinehart on the local repercussions of the pandemic. “As you can see from the reports I’ve been putting out pretty much daily — the numbers are skyrocketing,” she began.

No members of the public were at the meeting, but the session was streamed on the County’s YouTube page live. “Seneca County isn’t alone — it’s happening across the region and state.”

Board Chairman Bob Hayssen said that during a call today with the regional leaders the numbers continued to paint a concerning picture.

That sentiment was echoed by Swinehart, who says Seneca County is in the midst of its worst month since the pandemic began.

“Between March and October there were a total of 130 cases in Seneca County,” she said. “In the first 24 days of this month there have been 160.”

It’s a startling position for the County to be in, as it also registered it’s highest number of active hospitalizations on Monday. There are nine people hospitalized — ranging in age from one month to 86-years-old.

“We’re seeing numbers from social gatherings, family members exposing other family members — people not staying home — they’re not masking.”

The frustration in Swinehart’s voice showcased the challenge that public health officials have been dealing with throughout the pandemic. Now, more than nine months in contact tracing is being challenged by people who aren’t being honest after testing positive, and those who are continuing to go to work even after showing symptoms.

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“They’ll say they don’t remember where they went, or will be uncooperative,” she continued, speaking to the problem with gatherings that are taking place in the community. “I don’t put out a lot of press releases, but when there’s a serious risk to public health I will put that out there.”

One positive case led to eight total infections, after a recent event at a private business. Swinehart didn’t indicate which business or event she was referring to, but there have been a number of exposures in recent days and weeks.

“Stay home when you’re sick,” she hammered. She repeated it several times to drive home the point that a number of people who have tested positive have wrongly assumed that the illness they have is ‘something seasonal’ or ‘something they always get’. “We’ve had numerous people say ‘Its my normal sinus stuff’. Low-and-behold it didn’t go away, they go to the doctor, test positive, and have been going to work for a week. Now they’ve exposed many people.”

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Swinehart called it an unprecedented year, and said to not make any assumptions about illnesses in the community. “If it’s the normal sinus stuff you stay home for a couple days. If it goes away — great. If not, you call your doctor and stay home. That way you’re not infecting anyone.”

She updated the supervisors on the fact that not all counties are reporting points of contact or possible exposure. Cayuga County announced over the weekend that they would halt releases outlining the places where people who tested positive for COVID may have been. Swinehart echoed what county officials in Cayuga said. “Assume that it’s everywhere,” she continued. “Don’t pick and choose where you wear your mask. And just know that by going to work and being a martyr that you’re not just putting yourself in danger — you’re risking other people’s lives too.”

Looking ahead, she’s worried about what Thanksgiving will yield. “I’m very fearful of what’s going to be the result of Thanksgiving in the next 10-14 days. It’s scary that the numbers are going higher. But I don’t know what else we can do other than try to educate people.”