The numbers of coronavirus infections are now staggering throughout Putnam County with deaths continuing to increase.
Last Tuesday evening, Dr. Michael Nesheiwat, the county’s Commissioner of Health and Kathy Percacciolo, Putnam’s Supervisory Public Health Nurse, testified before members of the county Legislature’s Health Committee for over an hour.
The pair explained to Legislators Any Sayegh, Toni Addonizio and Carl Albano, who comprise the committee along with Legislators Nancy Montgomery, William Gouldman, Ginny Nacerino, Paul Jonke, Joseph Castellano and Neal Sullivan, who were also in attendance – each at his or her respective home or office due to social distancing – that health department staff was working eight to 10 hours a day seven days a week.
In addition to dealing with critical health needs, Dr. Nesheiwat noted his staff was involved with daily conference calls involving state, county and local officials.
The question of COVID-19 testing or lack of testing highlighted the discussion.
As of last week, 1,861 residents had been tested with 27 percent of those testing positive or 1.5 percent of all county residents.
When queried if Putnam was any closer to having the state establish a testing site for Putnam, Dr. Nesheiwat said “no. We have sponsored four drive-thru clinics – the first three with test kits obtained from private resources and the fourth with 100 test kits received from the state.”
Percacciolo told the legislators that New York State will not establish a testing site in Putnam as it has at Dutchess Stadium in Beacon or at Vassar Brothers Hospital in Poughkeepsie.
Putnam needs testing kits and Percacciolo said “if we can get them, the department can operate its own site by administering COVID-19 tests to as many as 100 people during a two-hour period. This is what we must push for because there is no other way to get our residents tested in the county.”
Percacciolo said under current guidelines a “person cannot get tested for coronavirus because he or she desires to be tested. The individual must be symptomatic.”
A resident asked the panel if the Open Doors Health Center in Brewster provided COVID-19 testing.
Percacciolo said the agency conducts “minimal testing. I believe they are client based and anyone cannot walk in to get tested.”
Legislator Gouldman asked Dr. Nesheiwat if the county could purchase kits from other sources. The physician replied: “We have been trying to purchase or borrow kits from a variety of sources. Vendors are out there trying to sell test kits but they have not been approved by the FDA and cannot be used. Uncle Sam and New York State have also been attempting to find rapid tests but unfortu-nately nothing is available. This is not a county problem but a national and state problem and FEMA is competing against counties and states for the same item.”
Montgomery noted that most of COVID-19 testing has been conducted outside of Putnam County. She asked the health experts: “Are you concerned about getting those results in a timely manner?”
Percacciolo said the county would “eventually get the results but the system has become overwhelmed and the Putnam Health Department does not often receive the results from outside sites from anywhere to three days to three weeks after the swab was taken. We can’t control that. There is no easy answer. Once the results are received, our staff contacts the individual. Our goal is to stop the spread.”
Montgomery said: “There must be a better way of tracking this. A lot of people are out there who aren’t included in our daily numbers and are walking around with coronavirus.”
Dr. Nesheiwat told the lawmakers: “The best way we can do is to disseminate information on how our Putnam residents can protect themselves and by pushing information regarding precautions such as hand washing, wearing a mask, staying away from sick people and remaining at home and staying safe while protecting the elderly population.”
Dr. Nesheiwat said there was some good news related to COVID-19: “Eighty percent of those infected will recover.”