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Public information meeting addresses coronavirus concerns

by Kari Ashworth - Executive Editor
Wed, Mar 11th 2020 11:40 am
Local officials spoke about the coronavirus at a public information meeting on Tuesday, March 10.
Local officials spoke about the coronavirus at a public information meeting on Tuesday, March 10.

A public information meeting was held Tuesday, March 10, in the Brockport High School Auditorium to discuss the coronavirus and the students currently under a voluntary quarantine in Gordon Hall at The College at Brockport.

The panel discussion consisted of seven people, including the Monroe County Commissioner of Public Health Michael Mendoza, College Emergency Manager Fred Rion, College President Heidi Macpherson, Brockport Central School District Interim Superintendent James Fallon, Town of Clarkson Supervisor Christa Filipowicz, Village of Brockport Mayor Margaret Blackman and Town of Sweden Supervisor Kevin Johnson. 

Following introductions from Johnson, Mendoza presented the facts on the coronavirus, explaining it is not an airborne disease.

“The mode of transmission for the coronavirus (COVID-19) respiratory droplets, meaning that the infected person might cough or sneeze and emit very fine respiratory particles that go at most about six feet,” Mendoza said. “So the radius of concern around an individual who was prone to be ill or prone to be a case is six feet. Beyond six feet, the risk is exceedingly low.”

Mendoza said his office has been focusing on the containment of the virus, which is typical of approaching an outbreak. 

“In the early phases, the idea here is that you want to protect a community from people from the outside who might bring the illness in and you want to, essentially, keep people inside and becoming good on the outside,” Mendoza said. 

Right now, Mendoza said travel restrictions, ordering screenings for the virus and quarantine people when appropriate, such as the SUNY students in Gordon Hall, will all help contain the illness. Mendoza suggested visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website to find the most up-to-date travel warnings, which currently include China, Japan, Iran, Italy and South Korea. 

Mendoza also mentioned Seattle, Washington, and Westchester County, New York, are “beginning to fall into the same risk” of those five countries. Despite this, Mendoza said it is most important to watch any symptoms you might have.

“The most important feature is if you follow your symptoms, because, first of all, we don’t believe that people are contagious when they don’t have symptoms, but the minute they do have symptoms it’s very likely they have been contagious for a day,” Mendoza said.

As for testing, to qualify for a test, you need to have symptoms. Mendoza said the quarantined students on Brockport’s campus have not been tested because they have not shown symptoms of the virus. Instead, SUNY did an initial screening and are checked daily. 

“We’ve limited their movement to indoors only, we do daily checks on their symptoms, twice daily checks on their temperatures, about 24/7 staff meetings with clinical staff,” Mendoza said. “We have counseling services available via Skype, and any kind of symptoms, anything so much as a sniffle, I want to hear about. And then we’ll do a more thorough investigation to see if it qualifies testing.”

There is also a difference between those quarantined and those isolated due to the virus. Quarantined people show no symptoms whereas isolated people do. Mendoza reiterated the students quarantined at Brockport “pose no additional threat to our community” because they do not show any symptoms of the virus. 

The county is also working on ways to mitigate the spread of the virus through promoting non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs). This includes properly washing your hands and avoiding touching your face, cleaning commonly touched surfaces, such as doorknobs and light switches, and being mindful of the surfaces you come in contact with. 

Social distancing is also important, especially since the risk of exposure is low past six feet. If a meeting or class can be held remotely, it may be in everyone’s best interest to do so. Mendoza also said it is important to be preemptive rather than reactive, as it will slow the spread of the virus. 

Macpherson briefly spoke next, thanking the community for its support, in the form of well wishes online and donations of snacks and items for entertainment, of the quarantined students. There is also a frequently asked questions page on the Brockport website. 

The college is not expected to host more students, and the students’ mobility is very limited. 

“They are all in what are currently four person suites, so generally four students who live in this area that we have, but we have a student in each bedroom, so they’re not sharing the bedroom,” Macpherson said. “They are sharing a bathroom; they have a protocol on how to do that. They are not allowed to meet people in groups; they are certainly not going outside. They are not doing any of those things that people are concerned about.”

Fallon also gave a brief presentation on how the BCSD is handling everything. Increased cleaning is one way, with surfaces, such as doorknobs, lunch tables and all bathroom surfaces, being wiped down often. School buses are also being cleaned at least once a week when they go in for maintenance. 

If a case is seen in the school district, the new regulation will be to close school for the next day, and plans are being developed for distance learning in the event of having to have a prolonged school closure. 

School trips, which are planned for Quebec, Spain and Washington, D.C., among others, are continuously being monitored and have the potential to be canceled if the area students would travel to becomes high risk. 

Finally, the district has given students extra time to properly wash their hands, especially elementary school children, and have set up hand sanitizer stations in the buildings.

A question and answer period followed the presentations. One person asked Mendoza how many test kits Monroe County has available.

“At this point, we have enough test kits to test everybody that needs to be tested,” Mendoza said.

Another commentator questioned what the plan will be for students after spring break. 

“We are having conversations every day at government level, and we’re doing a lot of forward planning as a system,” Macpherson explained. “At this point, there’s no plans to do anything different than we are doing right now. But we are also thinking ahead, just as the school district is, just as we have been counseled to do. So in thinking about how we can deliver our curriculum in different ways if we have to.”

Brockport student Liz Fontaine asked what options are available to students who will be traveling back home to the Westchester area. 

“Our residence halls remain open during spring break; we never shut our residence halls during spring break,” Macpherson said. “So if students would like to stay here during spring break, they are certainly welcome to do so. There is limited food service on campus during spring break. If it turned out that we had larger numbers of students that we normally have, we could look to see what other opportunities we have for that.”

Another question was why Brockport was chosen as a quarantine site, which Macpherson said ultimately came down to the fact that Brockport has a vacant residence hall.

In closing, the panel discussed what the intention of the various schools and municipalities have in regards to COVID-19. 

Macpherson said the college can only be closed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and will notify the community if anything changes. Fallon said BCSD will close at the recommendation of Mendoza.

Blackman, Filipowicz and Johnson explained some aspects of local government cannot work remotely, such as the village police or the department of public works, but those departments that can will do so if need be.

Macpherson also mentioned how the situation for any of those sitting on the panel could change quickly. 

“For all of us in this table, and for all of you in this room, it’s a very fluid situation and the guidance may change day to day and the information may change from day to day,” Macpherson said. “So, what we say right now and what the current plans are, what may happen in the future, unfortunately, we cannot necessarily predict. But what I can say is that everybody can be working on plans to the best of our ability and to implement them to the best of our ability as well.”

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