Kerry VanAuken

Seneca County Deputy Public Health Director Kerry Van Auken.

At the end of last week, public health officials in Seneca County were warning residents about a potential novel coronavirus exposure at two auctions in the town of Romulus.?

It was the second such potential exposure in Seneca County since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Public health officials warned that the event, which was held on June 24 and 25 at Vineyard Road Auctions in Romulus, had an individual attend who contracted the virus.

Deputy Public Health Director Kerry VanAuken said no event comes without risk, and that with any activities that involve density the risk for COVID-19 infection grows.

The Health Department had worked with the operator of the auction to ensure all safety measures were in place ahead of the event. To that end, VanAuken said operators were cooperative.

"COVID is here and we must all do our part to keep our community healthy," VanAuken said. "We must follow the health and safety guidelines outlined for re-opening and we must not get complacent and stop doing the behaviors that we know help to reduce the spread of COVID like social distancing and wearing a face covering when out in public."

VanAuken noted that understanding your own individual circumstances is crucial in the overall response to the coronavirus. "Be aware of your circumstances and evaluate your risk and the risk that you might pose to others. We are still in the first wave that is why we must remain diligent and steadfast in our preventive actions so we can be more prepared for the potential of a second wave," she added.

In her estimation, Public Health has done a good job responding to the pandemic. Speaking to the challenges associated with responding, the size of Seneca's health department played the biggest role. "Our health department staff is small so responding to COVID has required an all hands on deck approach," she explained. "All of our staff are working to respond to COVID daily. This has meant that we have had to shift our focus away from other public health programs or provide the services differently."

She said staff are working seven days a week and that has been happening since March. "It has been a challenge for our staff and we are being diligent to take care of each other to ensure staff do not become overwhelmed or burned out. Public Health’s work is to ensure the health of everyone in the community. It is frustrating when we see or hear subsets of the population ignoring mandates and guidance that has been put in place to keep our communities healthy and safe," VanAuken continued.

Of course, Governor Andrew Cuomo mandated that counties be ready and able to contact trace when positive cases are located. VanAuken said that has been a point of emphasis for Seneca.

"We do contact tracing in our communicable disease program so we have been conducting contact tracing for COVID since the beginning of the Pandemic," she explained. Currently, two RN's are conducting contact tracing inside the county. When a positive COVID report is received from a lab or local provider office or through the State’s Electronic disease reporting system, the RNs initiate contact with the positive individual and determine where they have been, and who they have been in contact with. That is when the 14-day quarantine begins, and an order of isolation is issued. VanAuken said the County conducts a home visit within 24 hours.?

"Their close contacts are identified and contacted and are instructed that they have been identified as a contact of a positive and they are subject to a mandatory quarantine for 14 days," she continued. A close contact is anyone who has been less than six feet away from the confirmed positive for at least 10 minutes.?

Daily home checks are conducted, and daily phone calls are made to those who are mandated to quarantine under the order of isolation.

As for the broader mandates for businesses and residents to follow, Seneca County Public Health has received its fair share of complaints about non-compliance. VanAuken said the County takes all of those seriously and is working with local businesses to ensure compliance.

"We have received a number of complaints regarding a lack of enforcement of masks in public places. The County is maintaining a list of complaints and are generating letters to businesses that we have received multiple complaints about. We are hoping to get voluntary compliance however warning letters have gone out to a handful of businesses. We need everyone’s cooperation to follow the masking mandates in public places where it is difficult to socially distance such as in grocery stores, convenience stores and other big box stores," VanAuken added.

The risk that individuals who do not wear masks, or do not comply with basic orders is significant, even if the virus is not running rampant in Seneca County at this moment. "We are still in the first wave that is why we must remain diligent and steadfast in our preventive actions so we can be more prepared for the potential of a second wave," VanAuken concluded.

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