GOSHEN - Medical professionals and public officials preached a level-headed response to the coronavirus on Friday, urging people to use common sense to avoid catching or spreading it but not to panic or be misled by unfounded reports that multiply like the illness itself.


“While we take this very seriously, we don’t want to unnecessarily alarm people,” said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who initiated the conference held at the Orange County Emergency Services Center. “I think it is a difficult balance that we all need to strike around being prepared and being informed, but not being irrationally alarmed at what is developing.”


Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus and Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro took part in the talk, as did the health commissioners from both counties. As of that time, no residents of either county had tested positive for the COVID-19, but two other Hudson Valley counties - Westchester and Rockland - now have confirmed cases, and health care officials at the discussion had no doubt it would continue spreading.


Dr. Gerard Galarneau, president of the Greater Hudson Valley Health System, argued that even closing tourist destinations like Woodbury Common Premium Outlets and “every single opportunity for people to meet together” would fail to prevent the arrival of COVID-19.


“This is going to be throughout New York in the next several weeks anyway,” he said. “So there’s no reason to bankrupt the county in an effort that will do nothing to improve the health of the community.”


One consensus among the panelists was that people with flu-like symptoms should call their doctors and get screened by phone before showing up in medical waiting rooms, where they could infect others. Similarly, patients with severe symptoms that require hospital treatment should first call the emergency room or 9-1-1, the panelists said.


“The key is, we want to keep this away from the hospitals,” said Dr. Avi Silber, chief medical officer for Cornerstone Family Healthcare in Newburgh. “We need to slow this epidemic down so we’re not overwhelming the health centers and hospitals at one time. So we want to keep this all in the outpatient as much as possible.”


Stewart not receiving SUNY student charters


One piece of news that emerged at the event was that Stewart Airport in Orange County will no longer be used - at this time - to land chartered planes with SUNY students who have been recalled from overseas study programs. Gov. Andrew Cuomo had identified Stewart as a landing point earlier in the week, but that plan appears to have changed.


“There are no plans to use Stewart or to do quarantining in Orange County in particular as of this morning,” Maloney, D-Cold Spring, said at a press conference after the discussion. “But that could change. There are certain advantages that Stewart offers with respect to its facilities versus the major airports in New York City, so there is a logic to that.”


Molinaro noted that apart from the state’s efforts, private institutions such as Marist and Bard colleges in Dutchess have coordinated the return of their own students from study-abroad programs, including 160 Marist students who were in Italy.


Panelists also highlighted the infusion of new government funding to respond to the outbreak: $8.3 billion from Washington to be disseminated nationwide and $40 million from New York for its own efforts.


Dr. Irina Gelman, Orange County’s health commissioner, said her department is drafting recommendations that will be distributed to senior centers and nursing homes about how to avoid exposing the elderly to people infected with COVID-19.


“We do want to make sure that the more vulnerable, susceptible populations have what they need in terms of guidance,” she said.


Dr. Kenneth Steier, executive director of Touro Medical College in Middletown, said his school has restricted travel to minimize the exposure risk for its students and staff, including the cancellation of a planned visit by a Russian group. Next week, he said, it will go further by having students take class online instead of in classrooms.