Liberty, NY – Due to the rapidly changing COVID-19 pandemic situation, Sullivan County is announcing strategic changes to balance the responsibility to protect public health with enabling schools and workplaces to safely stay open.
“Through this change in our response strategy, we aim to clarify and simplify the continually evolving guidance from the State and Federal governments for Sullivan County residents,” explained Health & Family Services Commissioner John Liddle. “A fact-based, common sense approach to our current situation will help everyone make decisions that protect their own health and that of the community as a whole.”
“While the rapid growth in cases is certainly cause for concern, we are also very fortunate – the rise of the Omicron variant is only causing mild to moderate illness for the vast majority of those who are fully vaccinated,” added Public Health Director Nancy McGraw. “Nevertheless, the total number of cases is putting heavy pressure on our Public Health professionals and local healthcare providers. This is the primary driver behind the changes in our response strategy.”
Public Health has created a flowchart as another tool in making healthcare decisions, which can be found at https://sullivanny.us/Departments/Publichealth/Coronavirus.
Public Health has also committed to providing citizens with a daily update via its social media platform and will expand interactions with media outlets for the duration of the current surge in cases.
“One important concept in our strategy has not changed – vaccines have proven to be very safe and highly effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalization from all COVID-19 variants,” remarked McGraw. “As of January 5, less than 25% of the patients admitted to Garnet-Catskills who test positive for COVID-19 reported being fully vaccinated – 75-80% were either unvaccinated, partially vaccinated, or did not report their status. We encourage everyone 5 and older to obtain a vaccine as soon as possible. If it has been more than 6 months since your original vaccine series, you should also obtain a booster.”
Contact Tracing Ending
Starting Monday, January 10, Sullivan County Public Health will discontinue COVID-19 contact tracing until otherwise directed by the New York State Department of Health (DOH) for high-risk congregate settings.
“Public Health still encourages those who test positive for COVID-19 to isolate themselves and notify their close contacts that they may have been exposed,” explained McGraw. “However, due to the extremely high number of cases, we have determined that contact tracing does not provide meaningful support in reducing the spread of COVID-19 in Sullivan County at this moment, with the exception of those in congregate settings such as schools, nursing homes, group homes, and incarceration facilities.”
What to Do With Those At-Home Test Kits
Over-The-Counter (OTC) test kits have already been distributed from the State to all Sullivan County school districts and municipalities. More are coming, as they are another useful tool to help better understand the risks from COVID-19.
“Because the extremely high number of cases is putting heavy pressure on our local healthcare providers, we are advising everyone to assume that a positive OTC test result means that you are positive for COVID-19,” noted McGraw. “Confirmatory PCR tests are not necessary at this point for you to follow isolation guidance – stay home, avoid contact with others, and monitor symptoms closely. If you are worried that your symptoms cannot be managed with over-the-counter products, contact your healthcare provider. If your symptoms worsen to the point of having difficulty breathing, do not wait for a primary care provider: call 911 for assistance, and let them know about your symptoms in advance.”
Beginning next week, anyone who tests positive utilizing an at-home test will be able to report that to Public Health by entering their information in a special portal to be announced. That portal will also provide isolation/quarantine return-to-work letters automatically.
Isolation/Quarantine Rules Changing
Isolation and quarantine orders are changing to align with Federal CDC guidance, beginning January 10. Most importantly, isolation and quarantine periods are being reduced from 10 days to 5 days for those who are fully vaccinated, boosted and not experiencing symptoms on Day 5. It is important to note that a negative test is NO LONGER REQUIRED to exit quarantine.
“Based on all we are learning about the Omicron variant, anyone returning to school or work after 5 days should also wear a well-fitting mask (until the 10th day after their exposure date,” said Liddle. “Although we still believe cloth and basic surgical masks offer some protection against COVID-19, data is clearly indicating the benefits of higher grade masks (such as KN95s), and they should be considered an essential tool for those who are just coming out of their isolation or quarantine period. If you need to obtain one, please contact our Community Assistance Center at 845-807-0925.”
Public Health is supporting all local school districts who wish to implement “test-to-stay” programs in their districts. These programs are an important tool for school districts to be able to keep kids in school safely. Individual school districts will provide guidance to families in the days and weeks ahead on how these programs will work locally. Public Health will be providing assistance and consultation to schools who wish to implement “test-to-stay” programs.
Implementing the Mask Mandate
In order to bring more financial resources to the County to support residents, Sullivan County will accept $1 million being offered by the State to counties who support the Statewide indoor mask mandate.
“We will use the funding to bolster support for our COVID-19 Info Line (845-513-2268), which will field the community’s concerns and connect any identified venues with additional masks and public health information to enhance compliance with the mandate,” said Liddle. “We will use the vast majority of these funds to improve access to vaccines, masks, and test kits for everyone in the County.”
Continuing to Advocate for Additional Resources
“We welcome the recent support NYS government has provided us in the form of KN-95 masks and test kits,” stated District 2 Legislator Nadia Rajsz, chair of the Legislature’s Health & Family Services Committee. “We also know they’re not enough to support the many challenges our citizens are facing right now. I’ve joined Sullivan County Emergency Management in requesting staffing and supplies from the State to expand or open new test sites in the County, and we have purchased more test kits on our own for public distribution in order to supplement the supplies provided from Albany.”
The Division of Health and Family Services appreciates the ongoing support and advocacy from Governor Kathy Hochul, NYS Senator Michael Martucci, Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and all of the local elected officials.