Indian Time - A Voice from the Eastern Door

Two more Akwesasne residents test positive for COVID-19, a third has recovered


By Andy Gardner

Two Akwesasne residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 respiratory disease.

According to the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe Emergency Operations Center, they are both being monitored by Franklin County Public Health. Officials declined to say where in the community they are, citing patient privacy concerns.

One person who was diagnosed several weeks ago has completed mandatory isolation, according to a statement from the EOC.

Officials say everyone should continue to practice social distancing. That means staying out of public for everything except essentials, such as food, medicine, or employment at a business deemed essential. When going into public, people should cover their faces with a cloth mask, per CDC recommendations, and stay at least six feet away from everyone else.

In nearby communities, the spread may be slowing. Franklin County reports 12 cases as of April 14, with 53 additional suspected cases that had confirmed primary contact with a known positive individual or an individual that is exhibiting the signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

The same day, St. Lawrence County reported no new infections for the first time since March 25. They have 99 people who have tested positive, 38 of which have completed mandatory isolation.

Although St. Lawrence County’s coronavirus problem is far from over, the local hospitals are able to handle the current number of infections, the rate of which has gone down since the beginning of the month. However, a local public health official says reporting that data is not as simple as just stating who has tested positive and who is feeling better.

“[St. Lawrence County’s] ‘doubling rate’ has decreased to every 13 days (New York City is doubling every 11 days). We had a period of very rapid increase, this appears to have abated,” Dr. Andrew Williams said in an email. “As we look at the patterns/clusters of documented infection, it is very apparent that the social distancing efforts have helped to minimize the transmission of the illness. The effort of the Department of Health to identify and isolate or quarantine individuals also appears to be very effective.”

On April 6, he reported the county’s doubling rate had exceeded New York City.

Dr. Williams is president of the St. Lawrence County Board of Health, and is also chief medical officer of Community Health Center of the North Country and associate chief medical officer of St. Lawrence Health System. SLHS operates Canton-Potsdam, Massena and Gouverneur hospitals.

He said while St. Lawrence County has more cases than many surrounding counties, the county is also testing more people.

“We have a relatively high testing rate compared to most of the surrounding counties. However, we have only tested about 1,000 out of a population of about 100,000 residents. Therefore it is difficult to determine what the true incidence and prevalence of the disease is,” he said. “Because the recommendations for testing right now focus mostly on patients with symptoms, we simply don’t know how many asymptomatic residents there might be. The newly available serological testing (using antibodies to determine prior exposure to the illness) may allow us to have a better understanding of the epidemiology of the disease in our community.”

Dr. Williams said local hospitals are able to manage the current infection rate.

“At this time, we are able to manage the current number of identified patients in the county. We have an entire floor of CPH available to care for these patients, with the option to scale up our response as needed,” he said.

Reporting the numbers presents its own set of challenges, according to Dana Olzenak-McGuire, the county’s director of public health.

“We are still learning so much about the virus. With the numbers of cases still rising in our county, we are careful in how we are classifying individuals who tested positive and who are no longer exhibiting symptoms,” she said.

To say a COVID-19 patient has completed mandatory isolation, the person must go at least three days (72 hours) since recovery. Recovery, Olzenak-McGuire said, “is defined as resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and significant improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath) and at least 7 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.

That still comes with a big caveat.

“It should be noted however that this recommendation will prevent most but cannot prevent all instances of secondary spread. The risk of transmission after recovery is likely substantially less than that during illness. Recovered persons will not be shedding large amounts of virus by this point if they are shedding at all,” the public health director said.

“While it is our goal to be transparent and to provide information so the community is informed, doing so poses several challenges as the data is constantly changing and significant coordination is required to ensure accuracy. We will be providing testing data through the state’s COVID tracker,” Olzenak-McGuire said. “Additionally, we are working diligently with essential workers who have been quarantined to determine whether they can and should return to work while they are in their 14-day exposure window. We want to contain the virus as best and as fast as we can to slow the spread down.”

St. Lawrence County public health officials say social distancing is having a positive impact on the local coronavirus infection rate, which has dropped significantly since the beginning of the month.

The county had some good news on Tuesday, April 14. It was the first day since March 25 where no new coronavirus infections were reported. Ninety-nine people in the county have contracted the illness, and 38 have completed mandatory isolation. One person was reported hospitalized that day, and one died of COVID-19 complications the week before.

The social distancing measures are aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 respiratory disease. The concern is under normal social interactions, the highly contagious disease could possibly overwhelm the healthcare system, requiring more beds than currently exist.

“It is too early to abandon the current Public Health measures. There is every reason to believe that a sudden reinstitution of normal social and occupational interaction would lead to a rapid, uncontrolled increase in the number of cases,” Williams said. “This would pose a grave threat to the elderly, medically vulnerable and community members in general.”

“I think the current data demonstrates that the community’s adherence to the PAUSE order is helping,” the doctor said.

The PAUSE order is Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order that requires all non-essential workers to work from home, and bars people from gathering in groups of more than a few.

“As stated for several weeks now: stay home, practice social distancing, and wash your hands frequently. The response to this pandemic requires the entire community and we thank everyone for their cooperation,” said Dana Olzenak-McGuire, St. Lawrence County Public Health director.


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