Earlier this week we received the unfortunate news that the coronavirus has reached Suffolk County. As of press time, one case had been reported with many more in New York City and the surrounding areas. While coronavirus has reached Suffolk County, it is important that residents do not panic. We are closely monitoring the situation and taking all necessary precautions to limit the spread.
The virus is serious and we should take every step possible to contain the outbreak, but it is important to note that the vast majority of people who contract the disease, COVID-19, will experience minor symptoms and usually will not require hospitalization. These symptoms are similar to a common cold or a mild case of the flu. However, the disease does pose a particular risk to those with underlying health problems and the elderly. That is why it is important that everyone in Suffolk County take meaningful steps to limit the spread of the disease.
On March 7, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that New York State has declared a State of Emergency related to the coronavirus. This will allow the State to move swiftly and take extraordinary measures to combat the virus. He also issued a directive to all health insurance providers in the state to waive cost sharing associated with testing for novel coronavirus including emergency room, urgent care and office visits. Medicaid recipients will not be expected to make a co-payment for testing related to COVID-19. If people are worried about the potential out-of-pocket costs for health care they will abstain from seeing a doctor if they are sick. This limits our ability find all carriers of the disease and restricts our capacity to contain the outbreak.
Suffolk County is in regular discussions with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and New York State health officials. Coordinated conference calls with our health, emergency services, police, information tech- nology, law, and social services departments occur on a regular basis, and our police department recently led a tabletop discussion on how to prepare for various scenarios. Additionally, the Suffolk Health Department is in contact with area hospitals to discuss capacity in case of a surge of patients who need to be isolated.
The good news is there are effective and simple mea- sures we can all take to prevent the spread of the virus, which is transmitted through respiratory droplets pro- duced by sneezing and coughing.
The CDC recommends taking the following everyday preventive actions:
Washing your hands is key. Wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and in between washes, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are touched frequently with a cleaning spray or wipe. Stay home when you are sick.
And finally, know that the CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask; masks should be worn by people who are sick to prevent the spread of the disease. Facemasks are in short supply for the medical professionals that need them.
If you or a family member has symptoms of a respi- ratory disease and suspect that it may be related to the coronavirus, contact your healthcare provider. Inform them of your suspicion and follow their advice before travelling to their office, clinic, or hospital. With precautionary steps, we can all work to reduce transmis- sion rates in Suffolk County to help protect our vulner- able populations.
Suffolk County will continue to monitor the outbreak and work to limit the spread. For updated information, visit the Health Department website at https://suffolkcountyny.gov/health or call (631) 854-0000. Additionally, New York has established a Novel Coronavirus Hotline at 1-888-364-3065.
The health and safety of Suffolk County residents remains a priority, and we will employ all efforts and resources to prevent the spread of this virus.