Coronavirus Update, April 9, 2020

As of today, New York State now has nearly 160,000 cases of the novel coronavirus, according to the state department of health. There are 7 confirmed cases of the virus in Schuyler County. In Tompkins County, there are 107 confirmed cases of COVID-19. According to the county health department, 76 of those cases have since seen resolved symptoms. In total, Tompkins County has conducted over 2200 tests for the virus.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday at his daily press conference that the state would be opening an additional five new COVID-19 testing sites in downstate New York.   This brings the total number of state-run testing sites to 9. 

During the press conference, Governor Cuomo also asked all New Yorkers who have recovered from a COVID-19 infection to consider donating their blood.  Persons who have recovered may have helpful antibodies against the virus in their blood plasma.  The plasma could be provided to testing labs that are evaluating the use of so-called “convalescent plasma” in developing a treatment for the virus.

Cuomo also announced that he would be issuing an executive order to bring additional funeral directors to New York that can help assist families whose loved ones have died as a result of COVID-19. 

The Governor indicated that the state would be collecting data on how many African American and Latino residents have died as a result of the virus.  He expressed concern in response to reports of high fatality rates in people of color. 

The COVID-19 sampling center in the Ithaca Mall parking lot will be closed Thursday and Friday, according to the Ithaca Times. The closure comes as a result of predicted bad weather and high winds. 

The center opened up in late March, and normally provides service Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Since its opening it has offered Tompkins County residents an opportunity to get tested for COVID-19 without a doctor’s order. 

Cayuga Medical Center spokesperson John Turner said the sampling center will provide a special Saturday shift to make up for lost time as a result of the closure. The Call Center will still be open, at 607-319-5708.

When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo put out a call for volunteer medical personnel to help New York City’s overwhelmed hospitals, Cayuga Health System answered.

On Wednesday morning, community members, clad in masks, gathered at Cayuga Medical Center -- while practicing safe social distancing -- to support two buses of local medical staff who will spend a month working at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in NYC. The hospital is run in collaboration with Weill Cornell Medicine, and the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Last week the Cayuga Medical Center sent out an email asking for volunteers willing to commit to the 30-day mission in New York City. According to John Turner, Vice President of Public Relations for Cayuga Medical Center, the response was “overwhelming” -- everyone from doctors, nurses, and support staff wanted to go down to the city. Along with the personnel help, Cayuga Health System also sent personal protective equipment (PPE) to New York-Presbyterian.

In the month since COVID-19 emerged in the U.S., New York City has become the epicenter of the pandemic. As of Thursday, the city accounted for over half of the cases in New York State.

Family and friends gave tearful goodbyes as volunteers loaded into the two buses donated by Cornell University. Jeannie Trujillo, a physician’s assistant at CMC, hugged her daughter, Elizabeth, a nursing student, who is one of sixty local medical personnel bound for Manhattan. 

“She's served as an inspiration for me -- to want to be a better person, a better human, a better nurse, a better healthcare worker; and it's just really setting the standard and the bar high,” Trujillo said. 

And, some people showed up just for moral support. Nancy Miller, a retired midwife, said, “I'm here today because if I were younger I would be going too.” 

Before the big send-off, Cayuga Medical Center CEO Dr. Martin Stallone, Rep. Tom Reed, NY State Senator Tom O’Mara, and Assemblyperson Barbara Lifton spoke in-person at the early morning event. Cornell University President, Martha Pollack, also joined the send-off via Zoom video call.  Pollack said she’s talked to healthcare providers in New York City almost every day, and that the hospital will appreciate the volunteers’ help.

“If there's one good thing about living through extraordinary times, it's seeing how those times can bring out the extraordinary -- and people, people like all of you who are getting on that bus,” Pollack said.

Assemblywoman Lifton took time to reflect on the severity of the situation and the selflessness of those stepping on the bus.  

”Today, I'm sure many of us are feeling that same sense of sadness and worry that we are sending our best into harm's way. But also superseding those worries, [is] a tremendous sense of admiration and pride and gratitude for their desire to take care of their fellow New Yorkers and support their colleagues in New York City,” she said.

“In every crisis, there are those who run not away from the struggles, but toward it. We normally call those individuals heroes. Today we call them doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals,” Dr. Stallone said. “We are honored to be able to assist our Cornell and New York Presbyterian friends in their hour of need.”

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Southern Tier AIDS Program, or STAP, has had to develop distancing measures in order to continue to serve its clients.  The program recently developed a remote needle exchange, but for the time being, has suspended its STD testing, the Cornell Daily Sun reports. 

Since the New York State Health Department has determined that clean needle exchange is essential, STAP has continued their work.  They are facilitating needle exchanges outdoors and are conducting home delivery of injection supplies.

John Barry is the Executive Director of STAP.  He notes that social isolation can contribute to problematic drug use. So, STAP seeks to maintain engagement with its clients to help them through this time. STAP administrators are continuing to deliver care, using programs like Zoom, home delivery of condoms and outdoor needle exchanges.  But, Barry states that inequities in technology services among their clients create difficulties in continuing their work.  

Ithaca College’s Director of General Services Jeffrey Golden and the college’s Center for Print Production staff have teamed up to help produce face shields for organizations in need. According to IC News, the team is using materials such as sheets of plastic typically used for signage, and 3D printers to produce the masks.

The team has donated 1,000 shields to William George Agency, a non-profit residential treatment center for adolescents.  They plan to donate 1,000 more masks to Cayuga Medical Center.  Golden states that with the supplies they already have, Printing Services could produce up to 10,000 masks per week.

Contributing writing by WRFI News Volunteer Esther Racoosin, News Intern Christian Maitre, and WRFI News Director Michayla Savitt.