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Coronavirus prep: local hospitals have supplies and equipment -- but no tests

Brett Dahlberg
Dr. Brenda Tesini, an associate hospital epidemiologist at Strong Memorial Hospital, and Kathy Parrinello, the hospital's Chief Operating Officer, field questions at a news conference about coronavirus preparation Monday.

As health officials in New York City warned that the novel coronavirus is likely to spread there, hospitals in Rochester have begun preparing for the virus’s potential migration upstate as well. 

Kathy Parrinello, the Chief Operating Officer at Strong Memorial Hospital, said the hospital is well stocked with the medical supplies and equipment that staff will need if the virus shows up in Monroe County.

What’s missing, however, are test kits.

Until this weekend, tests in the U.S. could only be performed by the federal Centers for Disease Control. Hours after getting permission to run the tests in Albany on Saturday, the state health department confirmed New York’s first coronavirus case.

Dr. Brenda Tesini, an associate hospital epidemiologist at Strong -- one of the people in charge of controlling the spread of diseases in the hospital -- said she and other administrators are working on getting coronavirus test kits distributed to appropriate sites across the state.

The tests are not simple instruments. In New York last week, scientists were seeing false positives even when following the latest federal guidance.

That slowed down efforts to decentralize testing.

“We need to make sure that everything works perfectly with the test to make sure that that’s the right thing to do,” Tesini said.

Right now, the tests -- one of which detected the first confirmed novel coronavirus case in the state over the weekend -- are only in Albany.

“I think appropriately, government agencies, they regulate who can do the testing to make sure it’s done accurately,” said Parrinello.

While the particular virus responsible for COVID-19 is new, contagious respiratory illnesses are not, Tesini said. “We’ve been through similar situations before. We always work to be ready.”

In a statement, Rochester Regional Health chief medical officer Dr. Robert Mayo said his organization was also constantly preparing for an outbreak like novel coronavirus.

“We have enacted additional protocols to go along with our already robust standard procedures,” Mayo said.

Still, months after the first cases of novel coronavirus were identified in China, the flu remains more deadly in Monroe County. Five more people died from the flu in the latest week of data available from the county health department, bringing this season’s total to 10. No coronavirus cases have been reported locally.

It’s never too late to get the flu vaccine, said public health commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza, but it takes 10 to 14 days to reach peak effectiveness.

Much more immediate results come from non-pharmacological interventions, Mendoza said, like washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home when sick. He said those measures help prevent the spread of both the flu and other respiratory illnesses, like COVID-19.

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