As we reflect on the one year anniversary of when the first case of COVID-19 was identified in a Sullivan County resident, many people have been reflecting on how drastically our lives have changed. …
As we reflect on the one year anniversary of when the first case of COVID-19 was identified in a Sullivan County resident, many people have been reflecting on how drastically our lives have changed. The first case of COVID-19 in the U.S. was confirmed in New York State on March 1, 2020, and our state quickly became the epicenter of the pandemic.
Just a little more than two weeks later, on March 16, 2020, the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Sullivan County. Public health workers and health care workers in the county had already been on high alert and had been preparing for months, for what we knew was inevitable.
The local hospital and area health care providers and first responders braced for the very real possibility of a surge in visits to the emergency room and hospitalizations, knowing what was happening so close to home just 90 miles south in New York City. Since then, the staff of Sullivan County Public Health Services has led the charge to fight the spread of the virus and support and educate individuals, organizations, and communities that have been most affected.
It was also about a year ago that county officials first opened a Community Emergency Assistance Center (ECAC) to help the most vulnerable populations during the COVID-19 pandemic and to help address the huge surge in phone calls from the community for information.
The County's Emergency Operations Center was activated to coordinate planning, information and response. Many other county departments provided staff assistance in various capacities, and have been and continue to be very involved in supporting the public health department. This includes the 911 Center, EMS, Public Safety, Public Works (DPW), Purchasing, Human Resources, the Office for the Aging, the county attorney's office, the Sheriff's Office, state police, local police, parks and recreation, information technology services (ITS), GIS mapping and the real tax property department for identifying hotspots of virus spread, and staff from the Office of Management and Budget to provide leadership, coordinate countywide communications, and request various department heads to assist Public Health with response planning, staff and resources.
Community organizations and individuals have come forward to assist with volunteers for vaccine clinics. We are organizing over 100 volunteers for vaccine clinic operations and are utilizing them at our large clinics at SUNY Sullivan, vaccinating about 1,000 residents per week. We have also applied to receive federal approval as a Medical Reserve Corp.
As more businesses prepare to reopen at a higher capacity, and the anticipation of our schools to prepare to safely return more students to the classrooms, it is critical that we all continue to be vigilant until at least 70-75 percent of the adult population is protected by vaccination.
Herd immunity is achieved when a virus stops circulating because a large segment of the population has already been infected or has been vaccinated against the virus. Public health officials estimate that 70 to 85 percent of the population will need to be vaccinated before herd immunity is achieved.
Until then, getting vaccinated and following the 3 W's - wearing a mask, watching your distance, and washing your hands - are the best tools we have to stop the spread of the virus.
Returning to somewhat of a more normal life is what we all want, although we're not sure we will ever really be the same. In order to ensure we can do this safely, everyone must play a role in supporting prevention messages and encouraging vaccination as our best chance to get our society and economy functioning at full capacity again.
Nancy McGraw is the Sullivan County Public Health Director.
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