In the wake of the first reported death tied to COVID-19 in Steuben County, officials offered an update Thursday on the status of the outbreak and their response.
“With profound sadness, we want to say that we were notified today of one COVID-19 related death (in the county),” Public Health Director Darlene Smith told members of the media during a telephone conference.
The victim was an 89-year-old Bath woman who had been hospitalized in the Bath area after testing positive for the virus, officials said.
The county had 49 confirmed cases of the virus as of press time -- with nine new cases reported after the press conference -- though that number changes daily.
Smith noted the county has tested 365 individuals, 289 of which had returned negative results as of Thursday afternoon.
Steuben County has 177 people in some form of quarantine or isolation, and 12 hospitalized with the virus.
Smith said there are eight county residents who have contracted the disease and since have fully recovered.
Test availability has become less of an obstacle for local health officials, Smith said, with no significant backlog waiting to be tested right now.
“For the most part, those who need to be tested are getting tested,” she said.
Smith noted that means those who medical personnel determine should be tested are able to be tested -- not all those who want to be tested.
Smith, along with Emergency Services Director Tim Marshall and County Manager Jack Wheeler, also took the time to reinforce the need to follow public health guidelines.
“Not that residents weren’t taking this seriously before, but we have our first death,” Wheeler said. “It’s a sobering moment.”
He said he recognizes following social distancing guidelines is hard, and will get harder.
“As it goes on, it becomes tougher for all of us to comply,” Wheeler said. “But this is a marathon, it’s not a sprint.”
On the other hand, some things should be obvious.
“One of the things we’re hearing about is groups getting together to go grocery shopping together,” Wheeler said. “That is not a safe practice.”
Smith said the danger is not just to those who chose to gather in that way.
“By people going shopping in groups, it’s [also] putting those essential workers at risk,” she added.
Smith said the biggest problem the county has seen in spreading the virus has been individual behavior.
“It only takes a few individuals who have symptoms, get tested, and don’t go immediately into isolation,” she said. “They are ill, they have symptoms, but we get reports that they are out and about.”
Though she didn’t give specifics, Smith said that in response to a question about why there was such a large cluster of cases in the Town of Hornellsville and City of Hornell -- 15 in total between town and city.
“Hornell is a hot spot for us right now,” she said.
“We haven’t found a correlation of one individual,” Wheeler said of the Hornell cases. “There is no common root cause.”
One problem that remains, in Steuben and around the country, is the availability of personal protective equipment for health care workers.
“One of the biggest issues that we struggle with and are working on is the supply chain,” Marshall said. “We’re working very closely with our state partners to push supplies out as we receive them.”
He said that includes any regular supply of those supplies -- masks, gloves, etc. -- that the county had on hand prior to the crisis.
“Unfortunately there are just not enough supplies to be had (for) people that need them right now,” Marshall said.
County officials continue to update with details of cases and locations, including an interactive map, on the county website at www.steubencony.org and Public Health social media pages at www.facebook.com/SCNYPublicHealth and www.instagram.com/SteubenPublicHealth.