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Orleans County Currently Has No Free Testing Sites, Often Forcing Residents To Travel To Rochester Or Buffalo; Schumer Warns Of Repeating Mistakes From First COVID Wave, ESP With Students In School 

Admin Is Sitting On As Much As $9 Billion In Testing, Tracing Funds & They’ll Have To Agree To Continued Testing Regime As COVID Forces Reversal Back To Remote Learning In Some Orleans Schools 

Schumer To HHS: Orleans County Vulnerable To Potential Second COVID Wave; Release Funding For Free Testing Immediately

With COVID cases on the rise again in New York, prompting worries about a ‘second wave’, standing with local hospital and elected officials in front of Medina Memorial Hospital, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer today revealed that Orleans County currently has no designated COVID testing site that offers free tests to Orleans County residents, and that the feds, specifically the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), are sitting on as much as $9 billion dollars needed right now as part of a more coordinated and robust virus testing regime. Schumer demanded HHS release the testing dollars he helped to originally secure in prior COVID relief legislation, right now, saying that Orleans County alone will need thousands of dollars to conduct sufficient rapid testing and tracing programs to keep residents safe from the virus. Schumer also announced his intention to fight for more of those funds for communities across Upstate New York as the possibility of a second wave emerges and as a COVID relief deal continues to be negotiated.

“With flu season upon us and a resurgence of COVID in New York, in order to keep everyone safe, we’re going to need rapid tests and we’re going to need them quickly,” said Senator Schumer. “Right now, Orleans County residents have extremely limited access to COVID testing, and often they need to travel to Buffalo or Rochester to get tested, which is unacceptable, inaccessible, and could wreak havoc on the health and safety of the community if COVID rates continue to climb. The feds are sitting on over $9 billion that can and should be long out the door, being used to ramp up 100% free testing in places like Orleans. Those dollars should immediately be used to get rapid tests to ensure peace of mind and some semblance of stability to Orleans residents who have already endured a tumultuous year.”

The process is especially discouraging for at-risk populations from rural areas like Orleans, where public transportation is limited and long-distance travel is difficult.

While nearby Medina Memorial Hospital and the Albion Clinic are offering COVID testing for Orleans residents and Schumer praised their work, he said funding for a standalone free testing site in Orleans County would dramatically increase access to testing and is critical to containing the virus throughout the winter. County officials project that they will need at least 7-8 rapid test machines and thousands of test kits at minimum, compared to the 2 machines and 700 rapid test kits they have now.

The need for funding and a robust testing regime is especially strong in Orleans, Schumer said, where some students are attending school in person. Western and Central New York’s COVID-19 case numbers are rising to May levels, and New York State’s new COVID micro-cluster metrics, which identifies areas of high COVID spread and labels them by red, orange, or yellow that determine testing and lockdown protocols, have already prompted Orleans County officials to seek additional testing capacity, especially in schools, to meet the new requirements.

For example, earlier this month, all third-graders in the Lyndonville School District switched to remote learning after a school staff member contracted COVID, and several students testing positive at the Albion school prompted 50-60 families to switch their children from an in-person hybrid model to fully remote schooling.  This week Medina High School announced it would not resume in-school instruction until November 30th due to the high number of staff members currently out due to mandatory quarantine and/or waiting for COVID test results.  Schumer and Orleans County officials said these reversals back to fully remote learning as the virus resurges will disrupt student learning and are inevitable without sufficient testing, making it all the more important that HHS releases the funding for more testing immediately.

“There’s absolutely no question that the health and safety of all students across Upstate New York is paramount, bar none. The federal government cannot and must not repeat COVID mistakes of the past months. Instead, it must do everything in its power to keep students, families, and teachers safe, and use the dollars it has and the premise of robust testing and tracing to tamp down any second wave of this virus and lead us to a true recovery,” Schumer added.

Last Thursday, Orleans County reported 30 new COVID cases which was its highest daily number of new infections since May when Orleans had 23 cases in one day. On Tuesday, Orleans confirmed 10 new cases for a total of 529 positive cases since March. Orleans’ seven-day average positive test rate was 5.9% on Tuesday up from 0.6% on Oct 1st and 1.6% on October 16th. The number of people in Finger Lakes region hospitals has roughly doubled since the end of October. Orleans County’s hospital system, Orleans Community Health operates the county’s only two testing sites: the Medina Memorial Hospital in Medina and the Orleans Community Health Clinic in Albion.

Orleans is bordered by both Erie and Monroe Counties which also have hit new COVID-19 infection rate records over the past few days.  On Monday, Monroe County set a new daily record with 315 new cases – exceeding prior new case records set just a few days before. Monroe County’s 7-day rolling average is 4.63% while Erie County stands at 7.0%. 

Lynne Johnson, Chairman of the Orleans County Legislature 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.  I applaud Senator Schumer’s efforts to free up existing federal testing funding now so that communities like Orleans County can have access to more testing.”

Paul Pettit, Public Health Director for Genesee & Orleans County said, “As COVID infections rates continue to rise in Western New York, it’s vital to immediately increase testing access and capacity.  In Orleans County where we had a testing demand of about 300 people per day, even before the latest infection level rise, we need additional testing – including free and rapid testing – available locally in our county.  I appreciate Senator Schumer’s push to access now-available federal testing funds to ramp up capacity in Orleans County and all rural communities where travel to a distant testing center can be a significant challenge to our residents.”   

Marc Shurtz, Orleans Community Health CEO/CFO said, “Orleans Community Health workers are on the front lines of this pandemic every day.  We need every tool and resource available to best protect our community and our health professionals, and that certainly includes more robust testing.  Especially now as COVID infection and transmission rates are spiking again in Western New York we need to increase our testing capacity - including rapid testing - to stop the spread and avoid other protective measures like lockdowns.  If we can head off community spread with more testing we can curb new hospitalizations which are already up 550% in the Finger Lakes region, which is why we appreciate Senator Schumer’s push for the Department of Health & Human Services to use the billions in funding it already has now to provide more testing in places like Orleans County.   We thank Senator Schumer for his work in the early days of the pandemic to pass the CARES Act that provided over $3.8 million in funding to Medina Memorial and for his efforts now to boost testing capacity.”

Schumer has repeatedly expressed his concerns and fought to improve testing and contact tracing throughout the country and New York State. He secured $25 billion in federal funds for testing, and has repeatedly pushed the Administration to provide funding, support and resources to New York State. In March, Schumer wrote to the CDC and FDA regarding federal barriers New York was facing in its effort to fully and quickly test people for COVID-19. The testing capacity was not sufficient to meet New York’s needs and he urged the CDC and FDA to work with New York health officials. Now, as coronavirus cases across the country are rising again, the feds are sitting on money, billions of dollars, that is critical to delivering a coordinated and robust testing regime needed to offset the chances of a strong second wave of the virus.

According to the NY Times, the U.S. has seen record-shattering numbers for new COVID cases in recent weeks, with the number of deaths on the rise as well. The rising numbers are especially concerning because they set the stage for an even greater surge in the coming winter months. Health officials are warning that this upward trend comes before the increased mingling of people expected to arrive with Thanksgiving and Christmas, much of which could be indoors as the weather cools, thereby increasing the chance of transmission.