Health commissioner stresses serious need for staying home, social distancing

Health Commissioner Beth Schweitzer Wednesday afternoon stressed the need for Seneca County residents to seriously pay attention to the state order to stay at home and not socialize in groups.

She said the Seneca County General Health District has received many phone calls of violations to the order and she has “serious concerns” that some people are not understanding the serious nature of the COVID-19 virus.

“People are not paying attention and having common courtesy to our fellow man,” she said. “I am very concerned that people in our community are not taking this seriously enough. It is a pandemic that is easily spread and there can be very poor outcomes from the disease.”

As an example, Schweitzer said she received a phone call at about noon Wednesday from a store that is open to sell essential items.

She said the caller reported the store had more than 400 people visit the store before noon.

“They were buying things that could not be seen as being essential,” she said the caller reported, and people were arriving in groups and not heeding the social distancing requirements.

Schweitzer stressed that behavior such as this example means people are not taking the state stay-at-home order seriously enough.

She said this is the most serious health situation in her 29 years in the health field.

“The goal is to reduce the spread and prevent the poor outcomes,” she said.

As health commissioner, Schweitzer said the state order gives her the right to order non-essential businesses to close. She asked any non-essential businesses that are still open to close.

She said she met with law enforcement officials who will be enforcing the closures. There will be one warning and an order to close. A second visit from law enforcement will result in misdemeanor charges, she said.

“And we sure don’t want to do that to anybody,” she said.

Schweitzer said she also is concerned that people aren’t following the hours stores have set for the elderly and others with health concerns to do their shopping for food and other essentials.

In addition, Schweitzer said she has received reports of businesses that are open as essential businesses, but are not following employee guidelines.

“We really need to have those guidelines followed,” she said.

Businesses guidelines for employees was one of the topics Schweitzer emphasized during her Wednesday morning COVID-19 report on Facebook Live.

“Each business needs to make a good-faith determination on whether the business or operation, in whole or in part, is essential,” Schweitzer said. “Regardless of whether the business is essential or not, work can be done from home, and we suggest you do that as much as you can.”

Business that determine they need employees on-site should minimize the number of people working and make sure they have minimal contact with each other.

“In this unprecedented time I realize management is going to have to make some difficult decisions which have difficult consequences for many people,” she said.

Schweitzer said local health departments are empowered to interpret the state order to best slow the spread of the virus and to enforce their interpretations.

“Please, please, I just beg of you as an employer, if you are one of those businesses that is essential, you need to be a responsible employer,” she said.

She said the health department has been getting many calls from employees concerned that their employers are not properly following guidelines. She said the 6-foot distancing rule is important and employers should not allow employees to congregate in break rooms or other areas. Frequent breaks to use hand sanitizer and wash hands in restrooms is encouraged.

“You should be diligent in cleaning those surfaces that are touched in common areas,” she said. “I’ve read the virus can live on stainless steel for two days and on plastic for three so this is really crucial you keep those areas clean.”

She asked that employers be generous with sick time.

“Please, please, employees should not come to work when they are sick,” she said.

Monitoring employee temperatures is highly encouraged, she said.

Employees should minimize contact with other employees or with the public.

“I can’t think of anything better than knowing your actions might have prevented a death,” she said.

Businesses and employers can find detailed guidelines at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/businesses-employers.html.

No new Seneca County cases

Also during her Facebook Live county update Wednesday morning, Schweitzer said there is still only one confirmed case of COVID-19 in Seneca County.

She said she cannot provide any updated information on that person because of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act – aka HIPAA – laws. The person previously was reported as a 52-year-old woman.

Schweitzer said about 28 county residents have been tested as far as the health department has been notified, but private testing now is being conducted at commercial labs and she said might not be reported unless results are positive. She said the health department still is waiting for results of the known tests.

Also during the morning report, Seneca County Commissioner Shayne Thomas said he is expecting the commissioners will declare a state of emergency in the county during their meeting this morning. The declaration might give the county access to disaster relief funds, he said, and would give some administrative leeway if necessary.

Thomas thanked Schweitzer and the health department for their hard work during the pandemic, combatting the socially and economically devastating virus.

“We are resilient and we will be back stronger than ever, but life will be different,” he said.

Thomas said the county has learned from other areas around the world on how to deal with the situation, and county officials started preparing a month ago.

“We have open lines of communication between the cities and the county,” he said.

Thomas said it’s up to everyone to do their part to slow the virus spread.

“We have all been drafted to do our part in this crisis,” he said. “Follow the CDC and health department guidelines to give our first responders, our healthcare professionals and our vulnerable citizens a chance against this virus.

“Although we are temporarily apart physically, we are connected by a common belief in the strength and resilience of our community and its people,” he said. “I have the highest confidence that our county will emerge from this crisis stronger and even more resilient.”