By Rick Miller

Cattaraugus County’s top health official enthusiastically endorses the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendation over the weekend that U.S. residents wear masks or other facial covering when outside to help avoid spreading the coronavirus. 

On Monday, Dr. Kevin Watkins called the guidelines “very good guidelines — maybe a little late — but they have come out with recommendations.” 

Watkins said he would prefer residents continue to stay home except for essential activities like buying food or prescription medicines. 

“The new guidelines to cover up — especially while shopping and going to the pharmacy” are important to follow even if they are not mandatory, Watkins said.

It’s also important to use a cloth mask and not the surgical N95 masks that are already in short supply for medical and healthcare workers, Watkins reminded residents.

The cloth masks — including handmade ones — can help prevent someone from spreading COVID-19.

“If it’s not essential to travel, remain indoors. That is the best way to prevent spread of the virus,” Watkins said Monday after Cattaraugus County recorded its ninth and 10th positive COVID-19 cases over the weekend. Both residents were from the southeastern part of the county. Unlike other counties, the Cattaraugus County Health Department does not report cases by town, city or zip code.

“With 10 positive cases, we are on the upward slope of this virus,” said Watkins, who expects it to rise exponentially. “A number of residents out there are asymptomatic, who can be spreading it to others unknowingly,” he added.

“I know people are getting cabin fever, but if they are going to participate in recreational activities that they remain at least 6 feet apart,” Watkins said.

People should also consider not going into crowded stores, Watkins said. Many stores are limiting the number of shoppers at a time, but the health department continues to receive reports of large numbers of people in some stores, he said.

The weekend tests that came back positive involved a woman from the southeast area of the county who had no travel history to areas of widespread COVID-19 virus, Watkins said. She had no symptoms, but was tested because she had a close contact with someone who had tested positive.

The 10th case was a male, also from the southeast portion of the county. He was admitted to Olean General Hospital on Friday with a fever, cough and chest and abdominal pain. An x-ray showed he had pneumonia. A positive COVID-19 test was returned on Sunday.

Watkins said of the 10 residents who have tested positive of COVID-19, three or four have been asymptomatic.

“We have to assume that everyone is positive out there,” Watkins said.

The COVID-19 positive cases include five from the southeast part of the county, four residents from the northwest section and one from the southwest portion.

Three of the individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 have totally recovered, Watkins said.

There were 43 on mandatory quarantine on Monday afternoon. Of the 275 tests administered to county residents, 247 have tested negative.

By staying hunkered down in their homes, residents can’t get the virus and they can’t give it to someone else outside the home, Watkins said.

There are three novel coronavirus patients at Olean General hospital, one of whom is on a ventilator and is said to be in stable condition, according to the public health director.