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"We are not powerless." Erie County still tracking COVID-19 trends despite lack of testing ability

Posted at 6:27 PM, Mar 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-19 18:52:50-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Erie County leaders are getting creative with tracking trends after a Wednesday announcement that the county no longer has the capacity to test for new cases of COVID-19.

It’s because the county has not received enough supplies to continue to test — an issue County Executive Mark Poloncarz is taking up with Washington.

“This is not like Erie County is dropping the ball. No one is handing the ball to us,” he said Thursday. “We are under the assumption, and do know that the White House turned down the World Health Organization’s offer to provide testing kits to the United States so we can become prepared. Why they did that …you'd have to ask that question to the President.”

Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said this doesn’t mean the county is powerless to fight the spread of the virus.

“No matter what the numbers are we know that we're still going up,” she said during a Thursday afternoon news briefing. “The important thing is knowing when we're at our peak, and knowing when we're coming down, and that's information we can use to guide our behaviors.”

Burstein admitted the County is going to have a harder time tracking local data but said it is still getting new information from the State and the Nation via shared information databases and testing done in commercial clinics.

In the meantime, the county continues to provide updates on places where residents may have been exposed and vulnerable to “community spread” of the virus — and many are saying they feel they have symptoms.

The Health Department said it knows there are many who both have symptoms and are not exhibiting them that likely are carrying the virus

Click here for the guidelines the county is providing people with while there is not an ability to test.

20-year-old Benjamin Szymanski knows what it’s like to go through this all too well.

His ordeal started Monday where he was at work (alone, since he’s an electrician) and started to not feel well.

He gave his doctor a call.

“They did the flu test, strep test — those were both negative.”

Szymanski was coughing, and having a hard time breathing at times.

“Really it’s when I’m up and walking, but occasionally when I’m just sitting there. I noticed it a lot when I’m eating it’ll be a little bit difficult to breathe. (By breathing would feel) strenuous, like I just did a workout.”

Tuesday, he called urgent care and asked for a COVID-19 test.

“They didn’t think that my symptoms were bad enough to be tested because I didn’t have a fever.”

Then, Wednesday, it was him that got the call.

“I got a message from one of my friends who I had recently seen in Ohio saying that he had recently tested positive.”

That was when the doctor finally decided it was time for Szymanski to get a test. It was also the same day the Erie County Health Department announced it no longer could test new samples for coronavirus.

“The lady I was on the phone with started to tell me that they will be doing testing if they get more test kits,” he said. “The way she said “if” made me a little bit concerned, but I’m assuming that she meant “when.””

Szymanski said he is at home, in his room and using his own bathroom. He plans to stay away from family until he is able to get a test — no matter how long that takes.

He added that the reaction to his illness from close friends was extremely negative as he worked, on his own, to retrace his steps and notify anyone he was in contact with over the last 2 weeks of his symptoms.

Reactions ranged from “being angry, blaming, and shaming although I had been asymptomatic at the time as well as the person who tested positive that I had come in contact with,” said Szymanski.

He wants people, especially young people, to take this seriously and stay home as much as possible in order to prevent the spread of the virus to anyone who is a senior, or in the vulnerable population.

“I would hope in the future people would be more understanding and compassionate towards those who have come in contact with someone who has tested positive since they most likely do/did not know.”