8 people tested for COVID-19 in Jefferson County, officials say at news conference

Updated: Mar. 13, 2020 at 10:35 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - Eight people in Jefferson County have been tested for COVID-19 and so far, no one has tested positive.

In the meantime, officials say if you want to go out to eat, go out to eat.

Those were two of the takeaways from a news conference regarding the coronavirus at Samaritan Medical Center early Friday afternoon.

Health experts from the hospital and Jefferson County Public Health Service outlined the current status of the COVID-19 outbreak locally and what people can do to prevent the spread of the disease.

"We're not discouraging people from going out if they're healthy," public health planner Stephen Jennings said. "We're always discouraging people from going out if they're sick."

Jennings said local officials are still assessing the impact of an executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo that limits occupancies of public spaces to half their capacities.

That includes restaurants, Jennings said.

"We're very conscious of the economic impact, but obviously public health impact is our priority."

Jennings said eight people in Jefferson County have been tested for COVID-19. Two tests have come back negative and results are pending for the other six.

“Testing is increasing in this county and across the state. So that may have an impact on lab capacity,” he said.

Samaritan officials say they want to stem a potential influx of people coming to the emergency room if they're feeling symptoms or think they've been exposed to COVID-19.

“We’re requesting that you call your primary care physician first to seek guidance. Or call our resource line here at Samaritan, which, the number is listed here 315-755-3100," said Dr. Sarah Delaney Rowland, Samaritan Department of Emergency Medicine chairperson.

Hospital officials say the majority people might not need to make a trip to the emergency room at all.

“80 percent of COVID-19 is mild disease. So, the majority of us will be okay to stay home and take care of ourselves and protect others, and not go to the emergency room or anywhere else," said Dr. Marylene Duah, Samaritan chair of infection prevention.

Hospital officials say they are limiting visitors to two per patient.

“We are not allowing anyone under the age of 18 as a visitor. If you have signs or symptoms of any illness, not just COVID-19, we will also restrict you from visiting," said Andrew Short, Samaritan Medical Center chief operating officer.

Samaritan had already restricted visits to its long-term care facilities at Samaritan Keep and Samaritan Summit Village.

The hospital has also prepared isolation rooms for anyone with COVID-19 who's sick enough to be hospitalized and is prepared to dedicate wards if enough people become sick.

At this point, the hospital has not had guidance from state or federal authorities about cancelling elective surgeries.

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