OSWEGO, NY — As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its fourth week in Oswego County, about half of those people who tested positive for the virus have recovered, almost of all them at home. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most people with COVID-19 can recover at home without medical care.
When a person tests positive for COVID-19, the Oswego County Health Department is notified by the New York State Department of Health. The County mobilizes its nursing resources to monitor the patient’s health, making sure that their needs are met, and that a thorough investigation is conducted to protect the public. Everything possible is done to prevent further spread of the virus.
There are strict guidelines and public health orders that need to be enforced. Thorough contact investigations are completed on every confirmed case. All of this can be daunting for the patient and their family, and intense for the public health nurses who are on the front lines.
Epidemiologist Jiancheng Huang Directs the Public Health Team
At the helm of the public health team is Public Health Director Jiancheng Huang, a physician and epidemiologist with a degree from the Harvard School of Public Health. Huang brings years of experience managing regional public health programs.
“Since I started my public health career, I have experienced outbreaks or pandemics like SARS in 2003, H1N1 flu in 2009, and Ebola in 2013,” said Huang. “But none of the past outbreaks were at a scale that is close to COVID-19. Public health relies on teamwork. Internally, our capable professionals’ dedication, and externally, the community’s broad support, will ensure that our community walks through this difficult time.”
As Supervising Public Health Nurse for the Preventive Division of the County Health Department, Jodi Martin oversees the disease investigation, isolation and quarantine process, testing authorization, and the COVID-19 telephone hotline, and communicates with area health care partners on changing conditions.
“Every patient that is confirmed to have COVID-19 is contacted as soon as possible,” said Martin. “A very thorough contact investigation is completed, and everyone that has had close or proximate contact are contacted and placed on the appropriate level of isolation and quarantine.”
Five nurses are assigned to investigate patients’ contacts, and staff from the Environmental Health Division also assist with the isolation and quarantine process.
“People in isolation or quarantine are monitored several different ways, including home visits, text messages, phone calls, and facetime,” said Martin. “These communications occur at random times during the day to ensure individuals are being compliant.”
Recovered Patients Share Experiences
Two of Oswego County’s COVID-19 patients who recovered at home recently agreed to talk about their experiences. The two women were both in mandatory isolation for several days, meaning that they stayed in another room, separate from the rest of their family, from the time they learned they tested positive for COVID-19.
Linda Kruger of Bernhards Bay is one of Oswego County’s first COVID-19 patients.
Linda, age 73, and her husband Mark traveled to Florida and Georgia in late February and early March. Along the way they fulfilled Linda’s bucket list wish to visit the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, before traveling to St. Petersburg and then Cocoa Beach, Florida.
While in Florida, Mark developed a cough and started feeling “under the weather.” Linda bought over-the-counter cough syrup and a decongestant, and he seemed to do very well with the cough medicine at night and pills during the day.
After a few days at Cocoa Beach, she started to develop symptoms. They took their time driving home and when they arrived back in Oswego County on March 9, Linda said she “was not feeling too horribly.”
“My husband and I are by nature self-distancers,” said Linda. “We pretty much stay by ourselves.”
She stayed home and tried to recover, but after almost a week at home, Linda developed a severe cough and fever and had difficulty sleeping. She visited her doctor, tested negative for the flu, and the doctor ordered a COVID-19 test.
“The very next day we went to have a swab taken at Oswego Health. Even though it seemed as though I had managed to quell the coughing at the time, I just wasn’t right. I had a runny nose and sneezing,” said Linda.
“Oswego County Health Department was spectacular once they knew I had been given the test,” she said. They monitored her symptoms and she stayed home while they waited for the test results to come back.
Her husband called the County Health Department daily looking for the results, and eight days later, Linda received a call from the Health Department informing her that she tested positive for COVID-19. After she tested positive, they were ordered quarantined. She said the uncertainty of waiting for the test results was the worst part of her experience. By the time she received the results, her fever had decreased but she still had other symptoms.
Linda said their home is “quite rural” and they didn’t have immediate family around, so they were very careful about social distancing. Her husband was considered “self-resolved“ because he had no symptoms and had recovered by the time they returned to Oswego County.
Linda said the County Health Department nurses became her “angels without wings” while she was in mandatory isolation.
‘Those are the Girls that Were My Champions’
“Those are the girls that were my champions,” said Linda. “They were terrific. I can’t say enough about how good they were … So professional, so compassionate, and on the ball despite all they faced. I don’t have enough words to thank them for all their care and concern.”
Public health nurse Jennifer Purtell checked on her at home and delivered Linda’s requests of toilet paper and a package of bufferin, along with their release orders when they were no longer in quarantine.
Another one of Oswego County’s first COVID-19 patients is Michele Myers.
Michele is in her early 40s. She called her experience “very overwhelming and scary.” Michele’s symptoms started with a massive headache, which continued for several days. She never developed the fever of over 101 degrees, but she experienced shortness of breath, extreme weakness and exhaustion. After eight or nine days she lost all sense of taste and smell.
Once she learned the news of her positive diagnosis, Michele was isolated from her family and loved ones. She said the isolation, anxiety for her loved ones, and associated depression were the worst part of the experience.
Worried for Her Family’s Health
Her parents and co-workers left meals and supplies in the driveway, but the worry for her family and sense of personal isolation were overwhelming. In addition to physical symptoms such as loss of appetite, nausea and cough, Michele found the overall experience to be “life-changing.”
“It’s very emotionally and physically challenging, it’s something that I never experienced,” she shared. “Mentally and physically it was very difficult. I worried about every little symptom and every little change.”
She said the health department checked in on her daily and was concerned about her feelings of isolation and depression.
“Tina Bourgeois and Katelyn Parkhurst were absolutely wonderful,” said Michele. “I don’t have enough words to say how kind and compassionate they both were! They truly made a difference when I was recovering. Any questions I had, they were right there.”
Both patients said they found comfort and healing in the fact that loved ones and health professionals were checking on them several times a day.
‘Every Case is Different’
Senior Licensed Professional Nurse Tina Bourgeois has worked in public health for 31 years and has performed disease investigations for the County Health Department for 20 years. Tina’s job involves performing investigations and contact tracing, sometimes on several cases per day.
“Interacting with the public, and making sure the public is safe,” is the best part of her job, she said.
“Every case is different and requires different amounts of information,” she said. “I contact the patient and contacts by phone and if necessary, will perform a home visit. In most cases, I contact them several times a day to ensure a thorough investigation is done.”
Advice for Other COVID-19 Patients
People who are home isolated can be released when they have had no fever for at least 72 hours and their other symptoms have improved, but not before a minimum of seven days after their symptoms first appeared.
Their advice for others in mandatory isolation for COVID-19?
“Let it ride,” said Michele. “I knew that there was going to be an end. I had to be patient, I had to let it take its course. I had people checking on me numerous times a day. Be hopeful, get your rest, and drink your fluids.”
“First of all, most important is isolation,” said Linda. “It’s an absolute must. Don’t have friends over, use the telephone. My close friends who found out I was sick were in constant contact by phone … they kept up to date on how I was doing.”
Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, difficulty breathing and gastrointestinal illness.
People with symptoms should call their medical provider or the health department at 315-349- 3330.
The health department urges all residents to follow these guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19:
– Stay home as much as possible.
– Follow voluntary travel schedules: People whose birthdays end in an odd year are
encouraged to travel Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and people whose birthdays end in an even year are encouraged to travel Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
– Avoid non-essential gatherings of all types and sizes. (All non-essential gatherings of any size are banned.)
– Keep six feet from other people.
– Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially before eating.
– Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash.
– Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
– Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
– Stay home if you are sick.
– Do not go to an emergency department unless you are experiencing life-threatening conditions.
– Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
Visit health.oswegocounty.com/covid-19 for the latest news releases, daily updates, and video presentations or visit oswegocounty.com.
Additional questions can be directed to the Oswego County Health Department COVID-19 hotline at 315-349-3330 or the NYS COVID-19 hotline at 1-888-364-3065.