WELLSBORO — Tioga County COVID-19 Task Force credits positive reinforcement rather than negative enforcement as one of the keys to keeping the county’s incidence of COVID-19 low.
But continued adherence to CDC guidelines will be key to preventing increased numbers.
That was the message from James Nobles, task force chairman, during a recent interview.
The county commissioners formed the task force in March at the outset of the pandemic. The purpose was to advise the commissioners on all aspects of COVID-19. That quickly grew to beyond just health care, Nobles said.
Within a short time, the weekly meetings included not only representatives from the three healthcare systems: Guthrie, Laurel and UPMC, but also elected officials from municipalities, county and state along. The group sought additional input and representation from higher and public education, the business community, human services, bankers, utilities, jails, Head Start and the Tioga County Partnership for Community Health.
The partnership helped coordinate many of the resources needed by residents, said Sue Sticklin, executive director of the partnership. Those who were elderly or at risk would contact the office for help with securing everything from masks to food.
“No job was insurmountable that we couldn’t tackle it,” Sticklin said.
The partnership also maintained a list of about a dozen assistance teams that would help connect people to resources they needed to shelter in place. For example, when the Westfield Manor residents needed help securing masks, the partnership contacted a Knoxville pastor whose congregation made and delivered masks.
Other volunteers would make masks or face shields and leave the items in a tote on the partnership stoop.
“Anybody we asked to step up to the plate responded and exceeded our expectations,” Nobles said.
The goal was to keep the case count as low as possible. When a positive case was confirmed, through the health systems, someone would contact that person to reinforce the importance of staying quarantined. A big success was keeping COVID-19 out of area nursing homes, he said.
Although the county had success keeping cases low, this is not the end of the pandemic.
“I’ve always said this is a marathon, not a sprint and we’re only about halfway through the marathon,” said Nobles.
Once the county entered the green phase, some residents stopped following CDC guidelines because they “saw it as the finish line,” he added.
“Green still means we have to be cautious,” Nobles said. “The precautions are still very, very important.”
Those precautions — wearing masks, washing hands, maintaining social distance — will protect the at-risk populations and keep county numbers low. Additional testing, like that which started this week at the Mansfield Walmart, will help identify positive cases and ensure those people are quarantined and unable to spread the disease.
“The best thing to prevent a resurgence is to follow the guidelines to ensure we never have an insurgence,” Nobles said.
The task force understands people’s desire for normalcy and to return to pre-coronavirus life, but more testing and a vaccine are needed before that’s possible. Until then, the task force will continue its work.
“I think we are a world that wants change immediately, but I think this disease bats last,” Sticklin said.
For information or help, visit the Tioga County PA COVID-19 Task Force page on Facebook or call the partnership at 570-723-0520.