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Public health officials: Get COVID-19 test when symptomatic, exposed

'We just want to remind people ... it's so important to know your status,' Erie County health commissioner Gale Burstein said during a COVID-19 briefing.

ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. — "We just want to remind people ... it's so important to know your status," Erie County health commissioner Gale Burstein during a COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday. 

Dr. Burstein warned that her department is finding multiple people who are quarantining with COVID-19 symptoms but choosing not to get tested.

"We imagine that there are just a lot of people walking around in our community that haven't been tested, not because of lack of testing, but they just choose not to get tested and [are] exposing other people," Dr. Burstein said.

She added, "I just want to call out to all my health care provider colleagues, please strongly encourage all your patients that have any type of symptoms that could be caused from COVID-19 to get tested." 

Those sentiments are echoed by Dr. Peter Winkelstein, the executive director of the Institute for Healthcare Informatics at the University at Buffalo. 

"If you think you might have COVID, please go get tested," Dr. Winkelstein said.

He told 2 On Your Side this is crucial for several reasons, the most important of which is that if you are positive, you'll know to self-isolate for the proper amount of time and prevent infecting others.

"And the other thing that's really important is it allows the health department to do contact tracing. Contact tracing is one of our best tools to help prevent a rise in cases in the pandemic," Dr. Winkelstein said. 

He added that's especially important since we know COVID-19 can be spread asymptomatically. 

Dr. Winkelstein said if people who potentially have COVID-19 aren't getting tested, it's possible the infection rate might not paint a full picture of spread in the community. 

He added, "The number that I look at and my team looks at is the number of patients in the hospital, the number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19. That to me is the most accurate indicator of how much COVID is out in the community." 

Right now, Dr. Winkelstein explained that number is worrisome.

"Over the past week or so that number has been flat," he said. "It had been going down, down, down, which is great, but that number has been flat, and it's flat at a pretty high level." 

Dr. Winkelstein told 2 On Your Side this is a reminder that the virus is still here and that we should keep following public health measures while the vaccine rollout continues.