Malware attack hurt county effort to contain COVID

WWNY Malware attack hurt county effort to contain COVID

CANTON, N.Y. (WWNY) - A malware attack that struck three St. Lawrence County hospitals just as cases of COVID-19 were on the rise made it harder to contain the virus.

“The malware that infected St. Lawrence Health System really added a kind of chaos that was not expected," said Andrew Williams, president of the St. Lawrence County Health Board.

Williams' comments Tuesday came as the county grapples with a rapid increase in the number of COVID-19 infections.

Within the last week, 68 people have tested positive for the virus, surpassing the old mark of just under 50 set back in April.

“This dramatic rise in cases, I think really threatens the significant gains that we’ve made as we work to reopen the economy, reopen the schools," Williams said.

"We had kind of reached a new normal.”

A ransomware attack on the computer systems of St. Lawrence Health System forced the hospital chain - it operates hospitals in Massena, Potsdam and Gouverneur - to largely take its computer systems off-line for several days at the end of October.

Now, as the virus spreads, officials report difficulties in getting test results and in contact tracing.

St. Lawrence County now has a plan to hire more case investigators. So far, it has relied on existing public health and other county employees to do the job. And it gets some help from the state.

In the meantime, health officials once again stress their “5 pillars” of COVID-19 prevention. Wash hands, wear mask, social distance, stay local, and stay home if sick.

“If we can all kind of hunker down, really follow the recommendations, I think we could turn this around," said Dana McGuire, St. Lawrence County Public Health Director.

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