“No magic bullet” as cases grow, says Albany County health commissioner

ALBANY COUNTY — The county’s health commissioner, Elizabeth Whalen, said on Thursday that her department, with exhausted staff, might not be able to keep up with investigating every new COVID-19 case, which has been the cornerstone of the county’s response.

Whalen said her department is concerned about “exponential growth” of the virus. She explained that, since each infected person typically spreads COVID-19 to two or three people, if it is unchecked, those people each spread the virus to two or three more, and so on.

Very quickly, Whalen said, the number would double or go even higher.

She noted that commenters on social media, noting the spike in county cases, have asked: What’s the plan?

“The plan is the same as it has been since the beginning ..,” Whalen said. “People have to take individual responsibility.”

She also said, to the public, “There is no magic bullet to stop this. You are the deciding factor.”

If residents don’t follow protocols — wearing masks, washing hands, not gathering, staying six feet from one another — “the results could be very serious and even catastrophic,” said Whalen.

If that happens, she said, hospitals could become overwhelmed.

“I can tell you right now, my department is overwhelmed … Our staff is exhausted,” said Whalen. “We are answering hundreds of calls a day. We are tracking hundreds of cases a day. We are working into the evening every day. We are working seven days a week.

“And if the numbers continue to go up, it’s going to be difficult to maintain continuity with the cases we are getting,” said Whalen.

She said some health departments across the state have decided they have too many cases to do case investigation so they are not tracing contacts and requiring quarantines.

“We need to be able to do that,” said Whalen. “It has been the cornerstone of our response so far.”

When people don’t cooperate, said Whalen, “We see spread.”

Whalen noted that she herself has three children and “a big family locally.” She said it was “a big deal for us not to get together for Thanksgiving” but concluded, “It’s a sacrifice we’re willing to make.”

On a different topic, Whalen said her department is submitting a vaccination plan to the state before the Nov. 16 deadline and is prepared for large-scale mass vaccination clinics.

But, she noted, the federal government controls both the supplies of vaccines and the timeline for administering vaccinations.

“That magic bullet isn’t coming for a while either,” she concluded.

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