Schumer joins local health officials in pressing for more Covid testing in Orleans

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 19 November 2020 at 12:32 pm

Photos by Tom Rivers: U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer speaks outside the Medina Memorial Hospital this morning, saying he supports releasing $9 billion in federal aid for more Covid testing sites. Schumer said Orleans County, which doesn’t have a site offering free Covid testing, is hampered in quickly identifying cases. Paul Pettit, public health director of Genesee and Orleans counties, is in back. Schumer wore mask except when he was speaking at the podium.

MEDINA – U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer was in Medina this morning for a news conference outside Medina Memorial Hospital, highlighting the need for more Covid testing, including free options.

Right now, Orleans County residents have to travel outside the county for a free testing site in either Rochester, Buffalo or Niagara Community College in Sanborn.

That hampers the county’s ability to quickly identify a Covid outbreak, and is an inconvenience to residents who have to travel for the testing.

Schumer said there is $9 billion in federal funding already designated for Covid testing and contact tracing that hasn’t been released.

Schumer said he is pressing the Department of Health and Human Services to stop sitting on the money. A second wave of Covid is hitting the country hard, including in Orleans County and rural New York where more Covid testing is needed, Schumer said.

“Increasing Covid testing capacity is vital to keep our community safe and avoid other restrictive measures that can disrupt our businesses, in-school instruction and families,” said County Legislature Chairwoman Lynne Johnson. “I applaud Sen. Schumer’s efforts to free up existing federal testing funding now so that communities like Orleans County can have more access to testing.”

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer speaks to reporters at a news conference this morning outside Medina Memorial Hospital. He said Covid has been “awful” for families, businesses and school children. Increased Covid testing is critical to help the country slow the spread of the coronavirus, he said.

Paul Pettit, the public health director in Orleans and Genesee counties, said a lack of adequate Covid testing has been an issue in the rural counties since the pandemic hit in March.

There is testing available at Orleans Community Health’s Albion site and at Oak Orchard Health in Albion. But Pettit said there aren’t free testing sites in Orleans. Residents need to travel at least 45 minutes to Rochester, Buffalo or NCCC.

A free testing site would be helpful for asymptomatic people who are required by the state to be tested because they work at nursing homes, as barbers or hair stylists. People need to get Covid tests if they face a surgery or if they want to visit a loved one in a nursing home.

If Orleans is designated as a yellow micro-cluster, local school districts would have to test 20 percent of students and staff a week.

“If the state is going to have testing requirements they should make sure there is testing in place,” Pettit said.

At a minimum, Pettit would support a mobile testing site that could rotate different days in be in a different rural county each day of the week.

With the demands for more testing, Pettit said the local healthcare providers also should be given funding to hire staff to administer the tests.

Marc Shurtz, CEO of Orleans Community Health, said the community needs more testing right now, and could see a big increase in demand if the county is designated a yellow micro-cluster, where 20 percent of students and school staff would need to be tested weekly. Shurtz thanked Schumer for supporting the CARES Act, which provided $3.8 million for the hospital in Medina.

Orleans County is currently testing about 300 residents each day. Schumer noted the positivity rate has jumped from less than 1 percent in early October to about 6 percent now.

More testing would likely identify more people who are Covid positive and then have then be isolated where they aren’t spreading Covid.

Marc Shurtz, CEO of Orleans Community Health, said the two local testing sites in Albion are busy. He anticipates a greater demand, especially if the county is designated as a yellow micro-cluster.

He backed Pettit’s statement that more staff will be needed to administer the tests.

“We not only need more testing, but free testing,” Shurtz said. “That is the ultimate goal here today (with Schumer’s news conference.)”

Schumer said the $9 billion funding through HHS could be used for rapid testing machines and test kits. Right now there are two rapid testing machines in the county. Schumer would like to see seven or eight for Orleans, and thousands of the rapid testing kits.

Shurtz said more rapid tests would make a difference “in heading off Covid in the community.” Quickly identifying cases would also likely result in fewer Covid-related hospitalizations, Shurtz said.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer expresses his condolences to Diane Krenning on the death of her husband Bruce Krenning. He was 76 when he passed away on Aug. 24. Krenning was the chairman of the board of directors for Orleans Community Health. Krenning also was a fruit grower in Knowlesville who worked with Schumer to develop crop insurance for specialty fruit growers. Mrs. Krenning thanked Schumer at the news conference for that crop insurance program, saying it has saved hundreds of farms.