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Public Health remains busy amid school reopenings

Joseph Abraham
Posted 9/14/21

SULLIVAN COUNTY –– While the summer may have given some educators and students a break from the classroom, Sullivan County Public Health Services and local superintendents remained in …

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Public Health remains busy amid school reopenings

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SULLIVAN COUNTY –– While the summer may have given some educators and students a break from the classroom, Sullivan County Public Health Services and local superintendents remained in regular contact in preparation of schools reopening, which took place last week.

Returning students to the classroom has been a priority of both the federal and state governments.

“We all understand it’s much less disruptive for children and for everybody to have them in school [in-person], so long as we can keep it safe,” Public Health Director Nancy McGraw told the Democrat on Thursday. “There’s a lot of guidance out there and we've been helping to interpret it, consulting with the schools if they have questions regarding state education guidance or guidance coming down from the state health departments.”

McGraw said they have designated staff that work one-on-one with school nurses to answer their questions. Public Health has also set up a dedicated information line they can call that is checked regularly throughout the day.

“We’re very busy in terms of the rising number of cases,” said McGraw. “Our staff are not only busy doing vaccination clinics, but case investigations, making phone calls for every positive case that comes through and that's risen to an average of 20-30 new cases per day.”

Currently the county has close to 200 active cases, and over 300 people quarantined (see COVID box on page 1A for updated numbers).

McGraw said the numbers haven’t been that high since last spring.

“Ninety-five percent of those active cases statewide, we can attribute to the Delta variant,” said McGraw, “although we are concerned about the emergence of more variants in other parts of the world and the country. That’s why it’s so important for us to continue our vaccination campaign and our clinic numbers are increasing.”

After they were done with their mass vaccination clinics at SUNY Sullivan, as well as other parts of the county and at local school districts, Public Health started holding weekly clinics at their campus in Liberty.

McGraw said they’ve seen an average of anywhere from 60 to 80 people at those clinics. But recently that number has been increasing. For example they saw between 110-120 people at last week’s clinic.

“More parents are getting their kids vaccinated, which is what we really want to see,” said McGraw.

As for the potential of offering third doses, McGraw said the county isn’t quite there yet.

“We want to get our vaccination rates in the county, especially for younger people, up as high as possible,” she said. “That’s the age group between 12 …. and I would say ... 18 to 25, that has the lowest vaccination rate in the county.”

That’s also been the trend statewide.

McGraw believes the Pfizer vaccine receiving full FDA approval, plus the start of school and some of the mandates for teachers and staff that’s come down from the state, are why the county is seeing an uptick in people getting vaccinated.

“We just want to reassure everybody of two things: vaccination works, it’s safe and effective. And masks work to prevent further transmission of the virus, ” said McGraw.

Back on the topic of schools, Public Health has also been working to help them implement COVID testing programs for staff who are not vaccinated, which there is funding available for.

“We’ve been communicating with [schools] for a number of weeks on this,” said McGraw. “There have been some meetings and discussions regarding options for testing and even possibly, surveillance testing for students, with parental consent of course. Test data and surveillance is the best way that we can get a handle on the prevalence of the virus in our communities and continue to keep the schools open and safe.”

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