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First Covid-19 death in WNY is Wyoming County nursing home resident

A Wyoming County nursing home resident infected with Covid-19 died Monday, marking what appears to be the first death from the virus in Western New York.

The individual was one of two residents at the Wyoming County Community Hospital's Skilled Nursing Facility who had been in isolation since testing positive for the new coronavirus, according to Joseph L. McTernan, CEO of the Wyoming County Community Health System.

"Our deepest condolences go out to the family of the resident. As we grieve, the safety of our residents, patients, staff and the community remains our focus," McTernan said.

There are 131 residents at the county-run nursing home, which is attached to the hospital in Warsaw.

The health system is working closely with the Wyoming County Department of Health and the state Health Department "to make sure we do everything in our power to keep our residents and staff safe," McTernan said.

The source of the infections at the skilled nursing facility has not been determined, he said.

The number of people diagnosed with the novel coronavirus has climbed past 100 in the eight counties of Western New York.

Citing confidentiality restrictions, McTernan said he could not answer questions on whether the first individual to succumb was a man or woman or whether the person had underlying health issues.

"The nursing home population is a very medically fragile population," he said, adding that the other resident who tested positive remains in isolation.

The health system had announced Sunday two residents had tested positive for Covid-19.

Jerry L. Davis, chairman of the Wyoming County Board of Supervisors, outlined some of the steps in place at the nursing home to protect residents and staff:

  • Every staff member is screened before entering the facility, which includes taking each worker's temperature.
  • The state and federal governments have banned visits.
  • All staff members continue to take aggressive infection control measures and are using personal protective equipment.

Davis also issued an "urgent" appeal to the public for donations of personal protective equipment. Needed are "N95 or procedure style masks," respirators, protective gowns, goggles and Tyvek suits or similar suits with liquid splash protection for medical personnel and first responders.

Anyone with the equipment can email the Office of Emergency Management at OEM@wyomingco.net, or call the Health Department at 585-786-8890 to make arrangements for drop off, or pick up, Davis said.

At other nursing homes in the region, management and union officials are in frequent discussions to prepare for an expected surge in coronavirus cases, according to Todd Hobler, vice president of the Western New York nursing home division of Local 1199, Service Employees International Union.

The local represents 5,000 nursing home workers in Western New York.

"Our expectation is that this is going to present everywhere in the next couple of weeks at nursing homes. That is why we are preparing. We are working with our nursing homes to prepare for that now," Hobler said. "We are constantly conferencing with nursing home operators and our members who are on the front line to make sure we are coordinating and communicating and on top of this situation."

In Warsaw, McTernan acknowledged a mixture of sadness over the loss and determination to be prepared for more cases at the hospital.

"We are preparing our best to meet the needs of the surge of patients that will be coming in to our hospital. We have a duty to act," McTernan said.

He also pointed out that the death is particularly painful because it happened in a small community where the cliche "almost everybody knows one another" is close to being true.

"Most of the residents here are from the community and most of the staff is from the community and they were already friends, so there is a special bond," McTernan said.

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