Your coronavirus questions answered

What do you do if you are feeling like you might have Coronavirus? How can you get tested?

​COVID-19 symptoms usually begin with a sore throat, then progress to a dry cough, fever and shortness of breath. If you’re experiencing these, do not go straight to a doctor’s office or emergency room; you will be turned away, and likely infect others en route. The protocol is to quarantine yourself at home, call your primary care provider and describe your symptoms. If you cannot reach your own doctor or don’t have one, call the county COVID-19 hotline at (845) 443-8888 (staffed 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.) if you live in Ulster County, (845) 486-3555 (staffed 24/7) if you live in Dutchess County.

​If he or she determines that you meet the criteria to be tested for the Coronavirus, the doctor will write you a prescription. You can then make an appointment with one of the designated testing centers. As of March 23, there are two of these open for business. In Ulster County, the mobile testing site is located at Tech City, at 300 Enterprise Drive in Kingston. (A second Ulster County drive-through site is planned to open in Ellenville next week.) In Dutchess County, the testing site is located at the Intermodal Center at Dutchess Stadium on Route 9D in Fishkill. Hours of operation at both sites are Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Advertisement

​You must first call to schedule your appointment once you have a prescription; your doctor or the hotline will provide the phone number. You should also bring a government-issued photo ID and your insurance card, if you have one, to the test site. Plan on self-quarantining for up to 14 days after being tested. Once the test is performed, the sample must be sent to a lab, and it may take up to six days to get the results from your doctor.

​If your symptoms are mild, you’re not in a high-risk group and your doctor advises you to quarantine yourself at home instead of going for a test, follow his or her instructions. It may take some time before enough test kits are available for everyone experiencing symptoms to get tested.

​More information on how to get tested.

 

Are the local hospitals gearing up?

​In addition to the newly designated mobile testing centers, most hospitals in Ulster and Dutchess counties are now able to do COVID-19 testing on a limited scale, though test kits are still in short supply. For example, as of March 23, according to Deborah A. Briggs, vice president for Human Resources & Community Relations at Ellenville Regional Hospital, “We have about 150 on hand. We have no confirmed date yet for receiving more test kits.”

​Unless you are in an immediate life-threatening situation, you will not be admitted to a hospital emergency room with Coronavirus symptoms without a referral from your primary care physician – particularly if you are running a fever. All our local hospitals have tightened up their protocols for access to their facilities, with visitation forbidden or severely restricted. At the HealthAlliance hospitals in Kingston and Margaretville, for example, pediatric, labor and delivery patients are each allowed one designated support person, but other patients may not have visitors. Nuvance Health, which operates seven medical centers including Vassar Brothers and Northern Dutchess Hospital, has similar rules now in place.

​If you are experiencing a Coronavirus-related medical emergency and need to come to the emergency room, call ahead to the hospital and describe your symptoms. Hospital personnel dressed in protective gear will meet you in the parking lot and escort you into a quarantined area through a specially designated entrance, in accordance with Center for Disease Control-recommended isolation guidelines.

​Hospitals are still reporting difficulties in restocking personal protective equipment such as face masks and gowns.“We are working on creative solutions to get the supplies we need throughout this pandemic. Resource management is critically important during a global health emergency such as this. Innovative supply chain management, proactive planning and conserving supplies through appropriate use will carry us forward,” said Sarah Colomello, manager of Public and Community Affairs at Nuvance Health.

​The biggest worry, as need for emergency treatment escalates, is having enough ventilators. “We are fully equipped based on our capacity,” Briggs reported of Ellenville Regional Hospital. “As of right now, we still have adequate supplies,”said Colomello. “We know this is an evolving situation, which is why we are closely monitoring inventory of essential supplies, including ventilators.”

​Area hospitals are also strategizing about staffing to meet the anticipated spike in demand over the coming weeks and months. “In anticipation for demand for COVID-19 treatment, we have stopped elective surgeries, procedures and outpatient services that are not essential across our system,” Colomello said. “As part of our planning, we are looking at how best to redeploy these physicians, nurses and other personnel.” Vassar Brothers Medical Center has a new building under construction that will enhance capacity, including a new quarantine space, but the new facility is not projected to be operational until autumn of 2020.

How do you sign up for unemployment?

​Applications for unemployment insurance are now being accepted online at www.ny.gov/services/get-unemployment-assistance. The usual seven-day waiting period after your termination date to submit an application has been waived by Congress. Paper applications are also available for those who lack Internet access at home, or you can call the New York Department of Labor’s Unemployment Division at (888) 209-8124.

​If you have any difficulty getting through, either by phone or online, US Representative Antonio Delgado’s office has caseworkers on staff who can help navigate your way through the application system; call (845) 443-2930 for assistance.

 

How does COBRA work if you get laid off?

​Unless your employer goes out of business, being laid off on account of the COVID-19 pandemic is considered a “qualifying event” for you to be able to continue receiving medical insurance coverage identical to that provided under your previous workplace-based plan. Premiums for COBRA coverage may, however, cost as much as insurance obtained under the open market, since your employer will no longer be making a contribution. Most folks who opt for COBRA coverage do so as a stopgap measure while they seek other employment that provides partially employer-subsidized coverage.

​Once you are terminated, your employer has 30 days to alert the health plan administrator, who will then contact you about your COBRA options, typically by mail. You will have a 60-day window in which to opt in. COBRA coverage lasts a maximum of 36 months.

 

What can I do if I have no health insurance at all?

​In response to the current public health emergency, New York State has initiated a Coronavirus Special Enrollment Period (SEP) in Qualified Health Plans (QHP), so that individuals do not avoid seeking testing or medical care for fear of cost. Eligible individuals will be able to enroll in insurance coverage through NY State of Health, New York’s official health plan marketplace, and directly through insurers. The previous annual enrollment period had ended on February 7.  Individuals who enroll in QHPs through NY State of Health or directly through insurers between March 16 and April 15, 2020 will have coverage effective starting either April 1 or May 1.

​This special one-time arrangement is designed for new, uninsured applicants only. Those already enrolled in a QHP through NY State of Health will not be offered the opportunity to switch plans at this time, as they can during the normal annual enrollment period. If you’re eligible for other NY State of Health programs – Medicaid, Essential Plan and Child Health Plus – you can still enroll year-round.

​To apply, call (855) 355-5777 or visit NY State of Health online at https://nystateofhealth.ny.gov.

 

When will the stimulus money arrive and how much will it be?

​Economic stimulus checks promised by federal officials to US citizens are very much a moving target at this point (March 23), with the Senate still at loggerheads about whether to prioritize businesses or individuals as needing an economic boost. One figure cited early in the legislative process was $1,200 per adult plus $500 per child. However, it is possible that people at both the top and bottom of the income scale will receive less money – perhaps as low as $600 for poorer citizens. The amounts would also likely be reduced on a sliding scale for those making more than $75,000 per year.

​It should be noted that checks will be issued only to those who filed IRS returns for 2018 and/or 2019. So, if you’re seriously in arrears on your taxes, now would be a really good time to get caught up.

​According to Forbes magazine, “Qualifying households could begin receiving their checks soon after the measure becomes law. The Trump administration’s goal is to start distributing checks within two weeks of signing the stimulus measure into law. However, it may take several weeks longer before households begin receiving their checks. For example, it took two months to start distributing the stimulus checks in 2008.”

​Stay tuned to the news out of Washington, DC for updates on this evolving situation.

 

Read more local coronavirus coverage here. Sign up for regular updates with our dedicated COVID-19 in the Hudson Valley newsletter

Post Your Thoughts