Cattaraugus County still does not have any confirmed cases of COVID-19, but the situation could change, a leading area healthcare official said Tuesday.

“We are expecting it to show up here,” William Mills, senior vice president of quality and professional affairs at Upper Allegheny Health System, told reporters during a media call Tuesday. Jeff Zewe, president and CEO of Olean General Hospital and Upper Allegheny Health System, also was on the call.

 “Allegany does have two cases. Erie County has seven,” Mills said. “Ten in Monroe County and one in Ontario. In Pennsylvania, you have to go to Pittsburgh to find a case. But, we are expecting it to show up here.”

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According to Mills, seven COVID-19 tests in Cattaraugus County have come back negative, and 13 tests are still pending. 

Mills said there is a shortage of tests nationwide. And he noted that Olean General Hospital and Bradford (Pennsylvania) Regional Medical Center, are not testing centers.

“New York State is cranking up the number of labs that can do the testing,” he said. “By the end of the week, we’re hoping to have more (information) online, that eventually we’ll have the testing on demand.”

Mills and Zewe also addressed concerns across America about hospital preparedness and capacity and the shortage of ventilators and respirators. Olean General and Bradford Regional are in “great shape” at the moment, Mills said.

“We have about three to four times of ventilators to what we typically use,” he said. “There are some statisticians out there who will do the math and crank it up to the point this country is woefully short of ventilators. That would be true if everyone gets a severe illness. We have more than an adequate supply.”

Zewe said four ventilators are typically used daily at either Olean General or Bradford Regional and that there are 26 ventilators in the area.

“We just need to keep our finger on the pulse and keep watching this so we have access to get a few more ventilators if needed," Zewe said. "Right now, I think we’re good.”

Olean General and Bradford Regional will remain full-service hospitals, and both are screening people for fevers, coughs and recent travel upon arrival, according to Mills.

“Operations, surgeries are going on as normal,” Mills said. “We’re doing our diagnostic studies, lab tests, physical therapy. We have not made any decisions to limit or shut that down at this point and time. Every day there are new things, but we do not have the virus in the area, so we’re continuing to operate as usual.”

Regarding doctor's office and hospital visits, Mill advised, “Call first if you’re sick. Just don’t show up."

He warned against exposure to potentially serious illnesses, "if not Coronavirus.”

Mills continued, “Best thing you can do if you’re sick is to stay home, quarantine yourself and (take) your extra fluids and Tylenol. If you get very sick, and you’re very short of breath and you’re in dire need, call your doctor or call 911.” 

In the Greater Olean Area, Mills said there are quite a few people who don’t have a primary doctor or insurance. Mills advised those people to refer to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and local health departments.

“If it’s mild symptoms, and you don’t have a doctor, you can call and see if it’s an issue,” he said. “Local health departments certainly have telephone numbers. The CDC has significant information as well.”

Mills said, “Insurance companies are getting some mandates about testing, specifically that they will waive co-pays for patients to get a COVID-19 test. That’s being misunderstood to say that you can just show up and get a free Coronavirus test. If you qualify, and if we can get it, they won’t charge you a co-pay for it. We just don’t have the resources to provide it yet.”

Mills and Zewe, at the call’s end, made sure to speak to the severity of the situation. 

Mills noted that people who persist in believing the Coronavirus is a hoax should buy a plane ticket to Seattle, where more than 1,000 people have COVID-19.

“This illness is pretty, pretty widespread,” Mills said. “It’s causing a lot of concern. Look at the CDC or the World Health Organization doing all of the things they're doing. To say it’s a hoax is an interesting way to look at things.”

For more information on the Coronavirus in the Greater Olean area, visit TAPinto Greater Olean's Coronavirus Updates page, which is updated continuously.

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