Displaying items by tag: COVID19
SARATOGA SPRINGS – A Harvard Scientist and 2002 graduate of Saratoga Springs High School has been making headlines introducing the idea of antigen tests for at-home almost daily use.
Michael Mina, of Greenfield Center, is an assistant professor of epidemiology at both Harvard Medical School and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He argues the do-it-yourself test can be as effective as a vaccine at interrupting COVID-19’s transmission.
“They can effectively be akin to a vaccine that was introduced tomorrow,” Mina said to the Harvard Gazette last week. “We keep trying to use these diagnostic tools that just tell us what’s going on [with an individual] once every couple of months when they may be tested. It’s doing nothing to stop transmission chains.”
A rapid antigen test is a diagnostic test that detects the presence or absence of an antigen and can be produced for less than one dollar. Although they’re not as accurate as current diagnostic tests, Mina said they are effective at detecting virus when a person is most infectious.
“COVID tests can actually be put onto a piece of paper, very much like a pregnancy test. In fact, it's almost exactly like a pregnancy test. But instead of looking for the hormones that tell if somebody is pregnant, it looks for the virus proteins that are part of [SARS-CoV-2] code to virus,” Mina said in a radio interview with NPR.
He added: “when we're thinking about this virus and the control mechanisms that we have to deploy to be able to contain the virus at the community level, then controlling spread of the virus is priority number one. You want to stop people from spreading it to others. And the only way to really do that — we have masks and we have social distancing, and we've already shut down the economy. And these are extremely important pieces to really deal with the outbreak as it's emerging and to continue going forward. But we found that it's actually quite difficult to get everyone to wear masks and social distance.”
According to the Harvard Gazette, the current tracing and testing strategy uses a high-accuracy, laboratory-processed test aimed at detecting individual infections. However, the high cost and slow turnaround time of the test makes it difficult to achieve the broader goal of stopping transmission of the virus. Mina estimated that the nation’s current testing strategy probably catches less than three-percent of cases early enough to affect whether a person transmits the virus. But as long as those testing positive stay home, a cheap, at-home testing regimen has the potential to provide a kind of artificial herd immunity, interrupting enough transmission nationwide to cause the pandemic to stall.
On how rapid testing would help normalize life during the pandemic Mina told NPR: “the way that this would work is that instead of a vaccine which uses your immune system to effectively stop you from transmitting to other people by preventing you from really getting a high viral load, these tests can fill in that gap by giving you knowledge about your status.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga Casino Hotel reopened their doors to the public, Sept. 9, after being closed for nearly six months due to COVID-19 protocols.
The scheduled 2 p.m. opening was moved up one hour earlier to accommodate hundreds of people who queued up outside beneath entryway signs that read “Welcome Back!” and “We’ve Missed You.” The line of people continued atop the extended sidewalk and deep into the parking lot.
Last week Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced casinos were permitted to reopen starting Sept. 9 with a 25% occupancy limit and strict enforcements of guidelines including face coverings, social distancing, and enhanced air filtration and cleaning protocols.
“We’re open,” Saratoga Casino Hotel General Manager Alex Tucker said simply, watching as people moved along the pattern of shoe prints painted atop the pavement with the spacing requirements of social distancing in mind. The large reopening day crowd was not a surprise.
“We had a feeling this was going to happen because of how long it’s been and there’s also been a lot of chatter on social media,” Tucker said. “This is the new normal. We’re asking people to be patient, and we’re really trying to do this as safely as we can and still ensure guests have a great experience.”
Over the past several months, Saratoga Casino Hotel developed a plan to implement physical modifications as well as policy and procedural changes to protect the health and safety of workers and attendees. That “Safe Bet Plan” includes heightened cleaning, sanitation and hygiene protocols, the use of MERV-13 air filters throughout the property, the Installation of several hand sanitation stations and other measures. All guests will be required to enter and exit through the south entrance, located near Crescent Avenue.
The 25% building occupancy enforcement equals 800 to 900-person capacity, Tucker said.
“We have driver license scanning for contact tracing – it’s an opt-in program. You can opt-in, or you don’t have to. Masks are required. Were going to take your temperature, social distancing inside the building, six feet in between the machines in every direction.”
The property first began hosting harness races in 1941. The season was extended in 1978 to include winter racing, and also began to host recreational events and music festivals to make ends meet, when the introduction of off-track betting plunged the sport into decline.
In early 2004, video lottery terminals arrived, contributing to the annual purses of the harness track. The machines have been credited by some with saving the local harness racing industry. A 2007 expansion brought with it the on-premises Vapor nightclub and in 2016 a $40 Million project developed a 117-room hotel with an indoor resort, steakhouse and other amenities.
Hours will be limited to 10 a.m.-2 a.m. The four-hour shutdown will allow time for proper disinfecting and sanitation, the company says.
The Hotel, Morton’s The Steakhouse and the Jackpot Deli with simulcasting are all currently open. Casino amenities such as cocktail service, Mane Bar, Garden Buffet and Vapor remain closed. Their reopening will be reevaluated as restrictions are lifted.
Earlier this summer, the city of Saratoga Springs received $1.86 million in funding from the state for hosting a center with the video gambling terminals in the community.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — As the city begins to move toward budget season – a 2021 budget must be approved by the end of November – the estimated revenues that will factor into that budget are anticipated at nearly $8 million less than was budgeted for 2020.
“Even with the phased reopening, our city cannot expect revenues to rise to former levels immediately upon the reopening of our downtown,” city Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan told the council this week.
“It is generally held that it will be months, if not years before the new economy establishes itself well. In addition social, behavioral and consumer changes due to closed businesses, wide-spread unemployment and other results of COVID-19 will continue to affect revenue collection well into the future.”
Madigan estimated that revenue collection - without any additional state or federal aid - at approximately $7.8 million less than the amount estimated for the pre-COVID world of 2020. As such, the 2021 general operating budget revenue is anticipated to be $40.9 million, down from the current year’s $48.7 million adopted budget.
Madigan reported the following year-to-date comparisons:
Sales Tax: year-to-date collection 19% lower than last year. More specifically - May 2020 is 37% less than May 2019.
Occupancy Tax: year-to-date collection is 54% lower than last year at this time. Specifically, 2nd quarter collection is 78% less than 2nd quarter collections in 2019.
Mortgage Tax: 0.24% lower than 2019, year-to-date.
Some Good News: The state released 80% - or $1.86 million - of annual VLT aid amount to the city.
COVID-19 SAFETY PROTOCOLS
City officials said this week that a newly amended state law will provide greater clarity in enforcing COVID-19 safety protocols. The amended law comes in the wake of some businesses and municipalities alike requesting stronger language than what had previously been issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as an Executed Order.
“The New York State Department of Health (on July 9) amended the Public Health Law, specifically Section 66, which codifies statutorily the requirements that Gov. Cuomo had implemented in the executive order and also imposed the ability for civil penalties associated with that, establishing authority for state and local municipalities to enforce those provisions,” City Attorney Vincent DeLeonardis said Tuesday.
“So it’s something we’re looking at to address that’s not necessarily punitive or restrictive, but lets people know that health is a priority for Saratoga Springs, that you can come here and feel comfortable,” said Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton.
“We’ve been looking for ways to encourage and enforce people wearing face masks in and around Saratoga Springs. It continues to be a problem, and the problem has grown. We keep hearing from people who are uncomfortable to leave their homes, or uncomfortable to visit here because they’re afraid they’re not going to be safe and healthy if they visit our downtown,” she said, adding that the biggest problem is weekend nights on Caroline Street, where large crowds gather along the sidewalks outside late-night establishments.
‘It’s not really the bars and restaurants, they’re doing a great job, it’s the people who are coming downtown and wandering in big packs on the sidewalks (and) no one’s wearing a mask. So that to me is the more urgent situation for us to be able to address the safety issue through this public health amendment.” Dalton said during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “We’re not going to be scouring Broadway in the middle of the day, seeking out people who aren’t wearing masks.”
DPW Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco argued that the police had better things to do than to enforce people wearing masks. Commissioner Dalton responded to say there already exists a police presence along Caroline Street, and actions there wouldn’t take away from any other safety issues in the city.
Commissioner Madigan added that there is no reason why police wouldn’t want to ask large crowds who had gathered to disperse or to don masks, and that pedestrians exhibiting safety measures also provide a positive display for local economic reasons in assuring people it is safe to visit and shop downtown.
The amended Public Health Law – which may be read in its entirety on the NYS website under New York Codes, Rules and Regulations heading - contains some exemptions, and reads, in part: Any person who is over age two and able to medically tolerate a face-covering shall be required to cover their nose and mouth with a mask or face-covering when in a public place and unable to maintain, or when not maintaining, social distance.
SARATOGA COUNTY DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC HEALTH RESIGNS
Saratoga County Director of Public Health Catherine Duncan announced this week that she will retire, effective July 31. As such, the agency is currently actively seeking to fill the position of Commissioner Of Health.
The appointment to the position is for a term of six years at a salary of $132,446 plus benefits. Job responsibilities include to direct, manage and regulate the Department’s delivery of public health services throughout Saratoga County. Requirements include: being a physician currently registered to practice medicine in New York State and possessing two years of experience in administrative practice in a health-related organization or government agency. For more information about the position, call 518-885-2225, or go to: www.saratogacountyny.gov.
HEALTH & WELLNESS PROPRIETORS UTILIZE CITY PARKS
The City Council unanimously approved on Tuesday, and Commissioner of Public Works Anthony “Skip” Scirocco announced Wednesday that Saratoga Springs based gyms, fitness trainers, and yoga studios are able to utilize Congress Park, High Rock Park, Geyser Road Veterans Memorial Park, and the Waterfront Park to host workout sessions without paying rental fees through Sept. 7.
Health and wellness proprietors can host classes at the specified parks by filling out a rental use agreement.
Regulations: No permanent equipment can be installed and a strict carry-in, carry-out procedure must be followed. Safety guidelines set forth by the CDC must be adhered to including mask wearing and social distancing. No loud speakers, loud music, or other activity interfering with others’ enjoyment of the park will be authorized. Providers must submit an anticipated schedule and location to inform the city of routine dates and times of usage, and DPW will resolve any conflicts between providers and/or other renters of the parks; location preference will be given to paid renters. A Certificate of Insurance must also be furnished.
COVID-19 Testing Sites and Antibody Testing Sites for Saratoga County change frequently and are updated at the Saratoga County website. Currently, sites include: Saratoga Hospital and Wilton Medical Arts – where COVID-19 and Antibody testing are available to Saratoga County residents of all ages with a provider order; Malta Med Emergent Care - Provider order required, and Saratoga Hospital Medical Group Primary Care in Ballston Spa - Antibody testing only – available with provider order. Appointment information, criteria for testing, and a regularly updated list of testing sites is available at: www.saratogacountyny.gov.
ALBANY — Delaware, Kansas and Oklahoma have been added to New York’s travel advisory requiring a 14-day quarantine for incoming travelers, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced July 7.
The travel advisory: if a person has traveled from within one of the designated states with significant community spread, they must quarantine when entering New York for 14 days from the last travel within such designated state.
The states listed on the travel advisory are based upon a seven-day rolling average, of positive tests in excess of 10%, or number of positive cases exceeding 10 per 100,000 residents.
The list of states is: Alabama; Arkansas; Arizona; California; Delaware; Florida; Georgia; Iowa; Idaho; Kansas; Louisiana; Mississippi; North Carolina; Nevada; Oklahoma; South Carolina; Tennessee; Texas and Utah.
For general inquires contact the call the Hotline: 1-888-364-3065. To file a report of an individual failing to adhere to the quarantine pursuant to the travel advisory go online at: mylicense.custhelp.com/app/ask, or call 1-833-789-0470.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Campfire s’moreo. Bourbon truffle maker. Baked placid cheesecake, and mango dragon fruit sherbet. There are more than 60 different flavors available at Stewart’s Shops, including those four which are part of the summertime limited edition kind. This summer, the company thought it a most appropriate time to re-introduce a limited-edition flavor that first premiered two years ago. It’s called: Civility.
“Just plain old kindness,” “getting along with people,” “putting out a positive energy to everybody you come across,” sound the endorsements in the company’s 80-second video clip re-introducing the ice cream flavor.
“It initially launched in 2018, a time when things were similar to how they are today - a country divided,” Stewart’s Shops spokeswoman Erica Komoroske said this week. “Right now, we’re having a big issue with masks. People are really divided on the mask issue. COVID-19 has put people on edge and we see a lot of hostility, customers yelling at each other in our shops about wearing a mask. What better time to bring back ‘civility,’” she says.
By definition the practice of extending basic politeness and respect to all citizens of society; by flavor, a vanilla based ice cream with a salty caramel swirl thought up by owner Bill Dake and created at the company manufacturing plant in Greenfield. “It’s a non-nut flavor,” she says. “We’ve had dozens and dozens of requests from customers to bring Civility back.”
Stewart’s Shops are deemed essential businesses and as such have remained open for the duration of the COVID period. It counts approximately two dozen shops within 10 miles of Saratoga Springs, 55 shops in Saratoga County and approximately 5,000 employees and 337 stores in New York and Southern Vermont.
On July 1, the company posted a lengthy statement on its web site detailing its priority to protect the health and safety of customers and employees, its adherence to CDC recommended guidelines and the protocols it was taking: the installation of plexiglass barriers at cash registers, offering hand sanitizer for customer use, regularly sanitizing high-touch areas, and posting signage to enforce customer social distancing, among them.
All shop employees - across New York and Vermont - are required to wear face coverings. Store signage informs that customers over the age of 2 medically able to do so are also required to cover their face with a mask or cloth face covering. However, it the customers’ responsibility to comply with the mask order.
“A mask is required, but we can’t put our partners in a position to enforce it,” Komoroske says. We’re trying to offer gentle reminders to customers – ‘hey, did you forget your mask today?’ There have been physical altercations in our parking lot. There have been customers chased with a tire iron. This mask issue has definitely divided people.”
The problem, she says, is the wearing of masks is not mandated by law. “If Ag & Markets came out with a law that said masks are mandatory, we would have better backing to enforce it as well,” she says.
“It’s not a law, it’s an executive order,” says Robin Dalton, public safety commissioner in Saratoga Springs. “There is no enforcement that is available to us as a local municipality to do anything other than remind and strongly encourage people to wear their masks. We are completely hamstrung. Our police department very much wants to follow the rule of law, but they are not going to write a ticket for something they know is not a law and not enforceable,” Dalton says.
“Personally – I think every single person should be wearing a mask when they step outside. If they aren’t around people, they should have it dangling on their wrist, like I do, so the second they see someone coming into their space, throw it on, or cross the street,” she explains. “There are a lot of people stuck at home, who are terrified to go downtown and terrified to go outside because other people are not willing to show them the common courtesy and respect of putting on a face mask. I think it has to do with safety, and with respect. We are such a philanthropic and giving community, but when it comes to this one particular issue, for some reason which I will never understand, it’s polarizing.”
A survey initiated by Saratoga-based tourism agencies conducted in June in which just over 3,200 participated, listed “masks worn by employees” as the top safety precautions businesses and their employees can take that will motivate respondents to visit their businesses. The results of the survey, publicly released July 8, also listed “a lack of trust in venues enforcing proper safety guidelines” as the main reason nearly 1,000 of the respondents are deterred from visiting Saratoga County.
The survey partnered Mind Genomics the Saratoga County Chamber, Discover Saratoga, the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership and other agencies and was designed to glean information about what will motivate respondents to visit Saratoga County in the next six months.
Absent stronger language from the state regarding mandatory mask-wearing of customers, Stewart’s Shops is test-marketing different ideas.
“We’re rolling out a test right now offering complimentary masks in one of our district of 17 shops in Valatie, and we’re trying to learn: are people going to respond? will they take the mask? how will they respond if a partner offers them a mask?” Komoroske says. “if that test goes well, we’ll roll that out company-wide.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS — This week, eight states were added to the original list of eight that requires residents of those states traveling to New York to self-quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival.
The quarantine applies to any person arriving from a state with a Covid-19 positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents over a 7-day rolling average or a state with a 10% or higher positivity rate over a 7-day rolling average.
The newly added states are: California, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada and Tennessee. Additionally, the travel advisory remains in effect for the initial eight states named on June 24. Those are: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North and South Carolina, Utah, Texas.
“We’re in the middle of a national crisis and we have to be careful. We’ve made tremendous progress, but this is not over,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during his press briefing on July 1. “We’re seeing troubling signs across the country that we should be concerned about,” he said. “Our infection rate is low. How does it go up? People come in from the outside, or when we start to get lack of discipline on the inside.”
The advisory alerting domestic travelers coming to New York occurs at a time when European nations are instituting a travel ban related to Americans traveling overseas. All members of the European Union - as well as a handful of non-E.U. nations, are slated this week to begin opening their borders to residents of more than one dozen foreign nations – Canada, Australia, and Japan among them – but not to residents of the United States, where the spread of Covid-19 has not been controlled, according to the N.Y. Times.
The rate of infection in the Capital Region remains low, although there were cautionary messages this week from the state about a COVID cluster at a Washington County/Vermont Slate Quarry.
Washington County Department of Health subsequently announced it is working with the New York State Health Department and the Vermont Department of Health to assess the potential impacts to the community regarding reports of the cluster of COVID-19 cases.
Cuomo said visitors to New York found to be violating the quarantine can be subject to judicial order and mandatory quarantine, in addition to being assessed fines. Those fines could be $2,000 for a first violation, $5,000 for the second violation, and up to $10,000 “if you cause harm,” the governor said.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga and the greater Capital Region entered Phase 4 of the state’s reopening plan on July 1.
The industries specifically tagged to reopen in phase four include: professional sports competitions - with no fans, higher education, both indoor and outdoor low-risk arts and entertainment, and media production.
Regionally, the rate of those testing positive for the COVID-19 virus has remained low and statewide has fallen dramatically compared to where they were earlier this year.
This week, the number of positive test results ranged from 0.7% to 1.5% across the state, with the Capital Region measuring at 1.0% - or 1 of every 100 people who had been tested, testing positive for COVID-19.
New York State has conducted more diagnostic tests per capita than any nation on earth, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this week.
“New York State is doing great, the numbers are good, the numbers are solid,” Cuomo said regarding New York’s infection rates, hospitalizations and the number of deaths recently caused by the virus. “But I feel there are storm clouds on the horizon,” he warned.
Thirty-five states have seen an increase in infection rates this week.
“Now they’re all starting to say: we better take this seriously. We better start wearing masks. They’re going backwards on their reopening plan – which is just what we talked about happening,” Cuomo said. “If you reopen too fast, you’re going to have to close. And that’s the worst situation, the worst for the economy and you’re going to lose more people in the meantime.”
The formula the governor described at his July 1 press briefing includes: testing, tracing, social distancing and wearing a mask. To that last point, a Fox Business report posted July 1 cited a Goldman Sachs study that says a national face mask mandate would slow the spread of COVID-19 and potentially prevent the reinstatement of lockdowns that would wreak havoc on the U.S. economy. He also cautioned about the slipping of citizen compliance.
“If you have citizen compliance dropping and you don’t have local governments enforcing, then you’re going to see the virus go up. Period.” Phase 3 indoor dining in New York City was postponed due to a combination of lack of local enforcement, an influx of visitors and lack of public compliance, Cuomo added.
In Phase 4, social distancing, face-covering and hygiene protocols continue to apply. Arts and entertainment businesses are mandated to limit workforce and patron/visitor presence to no more than 33% of the maximum occupancy for a particular area at any given time outside, and to no more than 25% of maximum occupancy inside.
Mandatory directives regarding the resuming of professional sports competitions include there be no live audience, fans, or spectators allowed to attend or to enter the venue. Additionally, fans are prohibited from congregating outside the venue.
The industries which remain closed are amusement parks, video lottery gaming and casino gaming facilities, indoor movie theaters, large gathering concert or event venues, indoor common portions of retail shopping malls greater than 100,000 square feet and gyms and fitness centers. This week more than 200 gym-goers in West Virginia were urged to quarantine after a Planet Fitness client tested positive for Covid-19.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga Hospital offers COVID-19 antibody testing at all outpatient laboratory locations, including Malta Med Emergent Care, Saratoga Hospital Urgent Care – Wilton and Saratoga Hospital Urgent Care – Adirondack.
Antibody tests are blood tests that look for proteins that have developed in response to an infection, in this case the new coronavirus. A positive test result means that a patient has had and has recovered from COVID-19. Antibodies could offer some protection against future COVID-19 infection by preventing reinfection or helping the immune system fight the virus faster or more effectively.
Test results could provide helpful information to the broader community. If enough people are tested, antibody status could offer insights on how widespread COVID-19 has been in the region. The tests can also identify potential donors for convalescent plasma therapy, which uses blood and antibodies from those who have recovered from COVID-19 to help patients who have the virus.
Over a six-week period, from May 1 to June 13, the state initiated 12,000 randomly conducted antibody tests. The results, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo revealed June 16, show that 13.4 % of those tested across the state had at some point had the virus. In the greater Capital Region specifically, 2.5% of those tested were shown to have at some point had the virus.
Tests must be ordered by a healthcare provider. Results are usually reported to patients by their provider or Saratoga Hospital in three to five days. There is no copay.
How to get an antibody test:
• A provider order is required for antibody tests at all Saratoga Hospital outpatient lab locations.
• Given their extended hours, Malta Med Emergent Care, Urgent Care – Adirondack, and the outpatient lab at Wilton Medical Arts will be the preferred option for many patients.
• Patients who do not have an order can come to Urgent Care: Wilton and Urgent Care: Adirondack during normal business hours or Malta Med Emergent Care 24/7 for a screening to determine their eligibility. Those who qualify will be tested. Patients will be charged a copay for the screening but not for the test.
All tests are processed by Saratoga Hospital, which meets the latest Food and Drug Administration validation criteria.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Indoor dining experiences, nail and spa treatments and a variety of other personal care businesses and services may soon reopen to the public.
“Phase three” reopening activities are slated to take place in the region June 17. Eligibility for reopening is determined by health metrics, and as long as regional COVID-19 related infections, hospitalizations and deaths remain low, it is anticipated Gov. Andrew Cuomo may give the Capital Region the green light for “phase 3” early next week.
“We’re not out of the woods, but we are on the other side,” Cuomo said this week. Five regions in the state outside of the Capital Region were given the green light for phase three reopening on June 11.
Gov. Cuomo’s NY Pause order went into effect March 22, and the city of Saratoga Springs and the greater Capital District Region were cleared by the state to begin the phase 1 re-opening of the local economy beginning Wednesday, May 20. Capital Region’s phase two reopening plan went into effect on June 3.
The sector designated as the Capital Region includes eight counties. They are: Albany, Columbia, Greene, Saratoga, Schenectady, Rensselaer, Warren, and Washington counties.
There are four reopening phases in all, and an up-to 14-day incubation period between phases to ensure that infection rates and hospitalizations are maintained at a manageable level. Phase three is slated for June 17 and phase four, which focuses on Arts/ Entertainment / Recreation, and Education, including libraries, will potentially hit its reopening mark July 1.
Recent actions include the reopening of outdoor dining at restaurants, as well as places of worship - with 25 percent allowable occupancy. Beginning June 26 outdoor graduations of up to 150 people will be allowed. Additionally, the New York State sales tax filing deadline has been extended to June 22.
Social distancing protocols apply throughout all four phases – that is, that people maintain a distance of six feet apart when possible, and face coverings be worn to decrease the potential spread of the virus.
Phase three showcases restaurants and food services establishments reopening their indoor spaces for the seating of customers. Indoor capacity must be limited to no more than 50% of maximum occupancy, exclusive of employees, and all tables with seating for customers must be separated by a minimum of 6 feet in all directions. Wherever distancing is not feasible between tables, physical barriers – at least five feet in height - must be enacted between the tables.
Additionally, patrons must wear face coverings at all times, except while seated, provided that the patron is over the age of 2 and able to medically tolerate such covering. There is a maximum of 10 people per table.
Also included in phase three: non-hair-related personal care businesses and services. This includes tattoo and piercing facilities, appearance enhancement practitioners, massage therapy, spas, cosmetology, nail specialty, UV and non-UV tanning, or waxing. Mandatory occupancy restrictions, distancing and mask requirements apply. For more information about the phases of reopening, requirements and gudelines, go to: ny.gov.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — In every public crisis, people rely on the training and courage of first responders and emergency medical personnel. While that remains true in the COVID-19 pandemic, the teams whose mettle are most tested are in
Saratoga Hospital’s Chair and Medical Director of Saratoga Hospital Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Josenia “Joy” Tan, MD, MT(ASCP), FCAP, and Director of Laboratory Services Richard Vandell, MS, MT(ASCP)SC, SH, knew they were facing a virus that spread like wildfire, but no one really knew how or how to identify those infected.
According to Dr. Tan, “Even large laboratories were making decisions in the dark. So we read everything we could get our hands on for ideas. The community was counting on us, so we worked the science and kept figuring it out.”
Dr. David M. Mastrianni, senior vice president of Saratoga Hospital Medical Group, said, “Let me explain how rare our laboratory team is. When we ran out of viral transport media, they made it. When we were low on testing swabs, they had them 3D printed. When testing kits were becoming scarce, they started batch testing. And they couldn’t just implement these changes. They had to first prove these ideas worked. Other lab directors would have given up, but not ours.”
According to Dr. Mastrianni, this response is not typical for labs outside of research campuses or even in larger hospitals. This higher level of function meant the lab was conducting research and validating the results, all while testing the public and patients for the virus as well as performing all their regular non-pandemic duties.
“Our first task was to stop the spread, and you can’t do that without testing to identify who has it,” Vandell said. “We didn’t have enough testing supplies. No one did. But we always find a plan B.”
The lab’s initial accomplishment was to establish a testing tent in record time, making Saratoga Hospital the first and longest continuously running specimen collection facility for the COVID-19 test in the region. Overall, Saratoga Hospital has tested nearly 8,000 people.
Then, to assure the safety of patients and staff and conserve protective gear (PPE), the hospital decided to test every inpatient. For a long time, it was the only hospital in the region to do that. Additionally, the lab obtained “rapid test” capabilities, a test for COVID-19 that could be done in-house and returns quicker results.
These tests remain in short supply, so the lab researched “batch (or pooled) testing” to help conserve them. Five samples of low-risk patients are now combined into one vial. If the test comes back negative, four test kits as well as PPE are saved. If it comes back positive, which only happens less than 1% of the time, patients are retested individually.
Saratoga Hospital offers physician-ordered antibody testing services, an in-house test that is another innovative use of existing resources brought about by the lab team. When rapid test collection swabs were hard to find, the team researched and obtained 3D printed swabs and validated them for use.
When many hospitals stopped testing due to a shortage of viral transport medium, a solution that preserves a patient’s sample on its way to be tested, Saratoga Hospital’s lab and in-house pharmacy made it from scratch, following CDC guidelines, then the lab validated its quality and purity, and now there’s an ample supply.
With the combined efforts of physician leadership, the infectious disease team, senior leadership, and others, the lab also developed a diagnostic algorithm to help physicians decide which test to use and when to use it. At the time, there wasn’t one for COVID-19.
“Our process and data for it have been submitted to the FDA and NYS Department of Health,” Dr. Tan said, “Once authorized, anyone in the country can follow our procedure. It’s remarkable, the amount of collaboration and support we have to do this.”
Working with its affiliate partner, Albany Med, Saratoga Hospital has been able to continuously work with the state laboratory to keep results moving. And Skidmore College loaned its biosafety hood, which allows laboratory scientists to safely handle infectious specimens, once the lab realized the two they had would not be enough to handle the extra capacity.
“There’s so much riding on what we do,” Vandell said. “Testing is key to reopening and will continue to be a challenge into the foreseeable future.”
Dr. Mastrianni agreed. “To successfully meet a pandemic head on, it all boils down to having people who are really bright and a supportive administration that lets them use their imagination, good judgment, and years of experience to do what they do best.”