Low COVID-19 numbers in county due to lack of testing, officials say

Low COVID-19 numbers in county due to lack of testing, officials say

The Washington County Board of Supervisors

By PJ Ferguson

Washington County officials project that more positive cases of the novel coronavirus exist in the county than are being reported due to a lack of testing.

“There has been no testing here for two weeks,” said county administrator Chris Debolt signifying that the state has pulled tests from upstate medical centers to be used downstate where the pandemic has more significantly impacted thus far.

“It is significantly more widespread than we know,” Debolt added.

Currently there have been 11 confirmed positive cases in the county, with 87 individuals receiving daily in-person home visits under precautionary quarantine and 29 being contacted by phone. 265 people in the county have been tested so far.

“We’re not testing,” said county attorney and public information officer Roger Wickes, “the only way we find out is if they go to the hospital.”

Wickes expressed concerns over people being told by their doctors to stay home but not notifying public health, which keeps the numbers from being a complete accurate representation of the spread.

Employees out on work must also receive an order from public health, not their doctor, in order to receive benefits from their employer while staying home.

Debolt explained the county’s reasoning for not revealing the town or zip code of the individuals who have been confirmed as positive with the coronavirus.

“First, simply we’re bound by HIPAA,” Debolt said, “the more important reason…is giving people a false sense of security.”

Debolt explained that people will assume because a confirmed case is not in a specific town, that they are safe, which he advises against.

Furthermore, Debolt said, some people who have symptoms are not notifying public health out of fear of having their information revealed.

“Operate as if everyone in your town has it,” said Wickes, “we don’t want to have a few deaths to make it real.”

This is the county’s overall message, Wickes emphasized.

“This thing can’t walk unless it’s attached to someone who is walking,” Wickes said, “help us spread the message, not the virus.”

While county officials warned against the threat that the virus poses, they also took time to credit those working in the public health department.

Wickes noted that they have hired three additional nurses, with staff working six, 10-hour day rotations.

“Public health is really do amazing work,” said deputy director of public safety Tim Hardy.