Personal responsibility essential to limit COVID spread

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Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr. made a rare but urgent appeal on Monday to address community spread of COVID-19 in the county and region.

As of Tuesday, he noted, there were 2,734 known current active cases in Oneida County — representing 37% of all cases since the pandemic arrived in mid-March. The county’s 32 COVID-related deaths since November account for nearly 20% of the county’s total of 161 COVID-related deaths.

More than 100 county residents are currently hospitalized, Picente said. County health officials added that the Mohawk Valley’s availability of hospital beds and hospital intensive care units both stood at 26% of capacity, slightly below the 30% threshold set by New York state that could trigger additional restrictions.

“We need everyone to step up to get this under control,” Picente said during a media briefing.

We agree. We have long expressed the view that personal responsibility in dealing with the pandemic is a crucial to preventing its spread. Additionally, we have, and continue to urge that everyone is knowledgeable about the virus and is educated about advances in testing, diagnosis, treatment as well as its devastating impacts.

As frightening as things are and as deeply saddening as the loss of life is as well, we must not give in to panic or frustration. Instead, we must do what we have commonly done throughout the history of our region — namely to put aside our differences and work together.

In his briefing, Picente said the county would begin to release the names of businesses, organizations and individuals that have received citations for failing to adhere to public health guidelines. There are about 20 such current cases, Picente said. While this is certainly true, these 20 cases represent a tiny fraction of our community. The overwhelming majority are obeying the rules, often at a cost of great business or individual sacrifice.

In addition, Picente recommended employers enforce mask wearing, social distancing and sending at-risk people home. He urged employees to be tested every two weeks, but testing does not indicate degree of sickness and, after two weeks, the tests might not be timely or of great value.

What is also important is the percentage of hospitalizations, the treatments available locally, the rate of recovery and reductions in the mortality rate. In no way do these issues minimize the devastating impacts of COVID-19, but instead add context and information we each need to make informed judgments.

The county executive also called for schools — particularly for grades K-8 — to remain open for in-person or hybrid education, citing that only 5.4% of all cases in the county have been traced to schools — which have, by all accounts, embraced enhanced sanitation practices, universal wearing of masks and social distancing.

We agree, for many reasons not the least of which is to meet the intellectual and emotional need of students, that schools should stay open — and believe they would if they could.

Districts moving to fully remote education do so ruefully, aware that it is a poor substitute for in-person instruction. They do so simply because as faculty and staff fall into mandatory isolation as a result of contract tracing there are simply no substitutes to take their place.

While we may not be able to change this in the short term, it can, and should, change in the long-term through exercising personal responsibility — wearing masks, limiting our public exposure, practicing proper hygiene including frequent hand-washing among other established practices — rather than through state mandates, no matter how well-intentioned.

NOTE: For those seeking testing, we remind that the state Health Department has set up free, drive-through testing at Griffiss International Airport, 800 Ellsworth Road, where appointments are necessary but can usually be made the same day, and results are coming back on average within 48 hours, county officials said. For appointments, call 888-364-3065.

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