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As coronavirus cases rise in CNY, contact tracers struggle to stay ahead of the spread

Oswego County Health Department
Oswego County's contact tracing team, which includes a mix of county employees and volunteers, is working overtime to stay on pace with the rampant spread of COVID-19.

Coronavirus cases around central and northern New York continue to rise rapidly. Onondaga County reported 235 new cases Sunday. Oswego County has broken the record for daily cases twice in the last four days, and hospitalizations in New York have reached more than 3,300 for the first time since May. 

The virus is spreading at such alarming rates in the region that county health department officials say they have become overwhelmed in their efforts to track it.

Where it was easier to trace the transmission of the virus before, the Oswego County Health Department said their investigations unit is finding it difficult to determine the connections anymore because of how fast-moving it is. 

“The COVID-19 virus is rampant throughout our county," said Oswego County Legislature Chairman James Weatherup in a press release. "The nurses and staff in our health department – along with volunteers and other county employees – are all working tirelessly to keep us safe and provide us with guidance and necessary government services at this critical time."

Oneida County Health Director Phyllis Ellis said it's presenting an unprecedented challenge.

"I think our early peaks were very, very minimal," Ellis said. "Earlier in the year if we had 30 cases or 30-something in a day, that was a lot we thought. Now, we're into the hundreds, so it's just everywhere."

Like Onondaga County, Oneida County officials are no longer going to announce sites of potential public exposures where people who have tested positive for COVID-19 recently visited. Not only are there too many places to list now, but Ellis said it will hopefully encourage everyone to consider any symptoms of the coronavirus - regardless of where they've been - as reason to isolate themselves and get tested.

"So everywhere you go in this community, you’re going to have to be aware that you can be potentially exposed to someone because they’re all over the board," Ellis said.

And perhaps most importantly, it can save time and resources. County health department staff are struggling to handle the increasing caseloads. Many are bringing in volunteers and Oswego County recently announced a partnership with public school districts to have administration help with contact tracing within the school community.

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.