Lewis County COVID cases: ‘Assume community spread’

Lewis County COVID cases: ‘Assume community spread’

LOWVILLE, N.Y. (WWNY) - Lewis County health officials warned Sunday that the public should assume “community spread” after the first two positive tests in the county were reported this weekend.

At a Sunday news conference, Ashley Waite, director of the county’s public health agency, said the two positive tests were from two elderly people who attended a social event “within 14 days of symptom onset.”

“Public health staff is looking into this to identify potential exposure source. We can assume community spread at this point,” Waite said.

The two are in a room at Lewis County General Hospital, one of four “negative pressure” rooms designed to keep infectious diseases from spreading.

No new cases were reported in Lewis County Sunday.

Word of the first two cases came as Lewis County’s hospital gears up for the virus. Hospital Chief Executive Officer Gerald Cayer said Sunday that the hospital anticipates having 50 beds in place - double its normal capacity - by Monday, and the hospital will be ready to treat the sickest patients.

“All beds would potentially be treated as ICU (intensive care unit) beds,” Cayer said. "

“We can’t call it that because the staffing requirements are different if it’s an ICU unit versus a medical-surgical unit, but we would work hard to meet the needs of any patient who came in, regardless of the bed that they’re in.”

The hospital only has six ventilator units, and is working on a technique which allows patients to share a unit.

County officials announced that virtually all calls placed to 9-1-1 will result in the caller being asked questions about potential exposure to the coronavirus.

County manager Ryan Piche warned the county is likely to face money woes as the year goes on, a combination of businesses being shut down - so no sales tax - and the likelihood that state aid will be cut.

“I certainly anticipate, as do most of the counties in New York state, that the 20-21 budget year is going to be tough,” he said.

Lewis County was among the last counties in the state to have confirmed cases of the virus, something Piche attributed to the county’s early aggressive work to contain the virus.

“One, we really did adopt some social distancing measures; our school districts closed Monday, the rest of the state didn’t close until Wednesday two weeks ago; our hospital has been on top of things from day one, and also our population is certainly less dense in Lewis County,” Piche said.

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