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Coronavirus found in Erie County, 2 Assembly members

Sat, Mar 14th 2020 09:30 pm

On Saturday evening, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz posted the following on his Facebook page: “I have been advised by the Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) that of today's tests, 3 samples from Erie County residents tested positive for the #Coronavirus/#COVIDー19. Our Department of Health is currently contacting close contacts of the three persons.

“I will hold a press conference with Dr. Gale Burstein of the Department of Health and Commissioner Dan Neaverth, Jr. of Homeland Security and Emergency Services at 11 am tomorrow morning with more details.”

He shared a media advisory that stated, “These tests were performed by the Erie County Public Health Lab and completed late Saturday afternoon. Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) epidemiologists are already at work to identify the close contacts of these individuals and to place those close contacts in mandatory quarantine to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms.”

Assembly Speakers Diagnosed

•Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie issued this statement Saturday night: "It has come to our attention that two of our Assembly colleagues – Helene Weinstein and Charles Barron – have been diagnosed with COVID-19. It is important to note that both members have not been in Albany since early March for separate reasons. Speaker Heastie has been in contact with both members and we are taking swift action to address this situation.

"We have spoken with the Senate and are undertaking an intensive cleaning of the Capital and the Legislative Office Building. All legislators and staff that have come in contact with these members will be tested to ensure the safety of everyone.

"Additionally, out of an abundance of caution we are closing the Capitol to visitors effective tomorrow.

"We are working hand in glove to contain and mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 in New York but we will continue to act aggressively to protect the public health."

Weinstein issued this statement: “Today I learned that I tested positive for COVID-19. I am coordinating with the New York State Department of Health to ensure the safety of my constituents, colleagues and staff.

“For the last week, I was attending to a number of personal matters in my district. I have not been in Albany since Wednesday, March 4th. I have not had contact with any staff or constituents during this period.

“I began experiencing symptoms the evening of Wednesday, March 11th and I immediately self-quarantined to ensure the safety of my family, friends and the community. I am resting comfortably and continue to work from home on legislative matters, and I am disappointed that I cannot be with my colleagues as we work toward a budget agreement.”

Telehealth Options

•During a novel coronavirus conference call briefing earlier in the day, Cuomo announced the State Department of Financial Services will require insurance companies to waive co-pays for telehealth visits. This action will encourage New Yorkers to seek medical attention from their homes rather than visit a hospital or doctor's office – ultimately reducing strain on the health care system and preventing further spread of the virus.

The governor also authorized the state to open a drive-through mobile testing facility on Long Island in the coming week. This follows the success of the New Rochelle mobile testing center, which opened yesterday and serviced 150 cars and tested 263 people, exceeding the initial goal of testing 200 people in the first day. Once fully operational, the New Rochelle facility will be able to test up to 500 people per day. Drive-through mobile testing facilities help keep people who are sick or at risk of having contracted coronavirus out of healthcare facilities where they could infect other people. 

The addition of a mobile testing facility on Long Island is part of the state's initiative to replicate the New Rochelle mobile testing center model at other locations, helping allow the state to run at least 6,000 tests per day starting next week – six times the state's target goal when this outbreak first came to New York. This is on top of the testing that will be conducted at the 28 public and private labs across the state and the out of state labs that New York is already contracting with.

All of this is a result of the proactive steps taken by Cuomo and the Department of Health to get as many New Yorkers tested as possible.

"As the novel coronavirus continues to spread and the number of positive cases increases, we are encouraging New Yorkers to use telemedicine if they are sick, and we will set up a new drive-thru mobile testing facility on Long Island to help keep people out of emergency rooms and reduce the strain on our health care system," Cuomo said. "The more tests we do, the higher the number of positive cases we will see – so we need to keep that context in mind when we see these numbers continuing to go up. And we will continue to communicate the facts, because the facts and the information defeat the fear and anxiety in this situation."

The governor also confirmed the first novel coronavirus-related death in New York: an 82-year-old woman in Brooklyn who had a pre-existing respiratory disease of emphysema.

•Additionally, Cuomo said he would sign an executive order today to help relieve the economic impact of COVID-19 on workers and assure school aid for schools that have been directed to close. As part of the governor's executive order, the state will waive the seven-day waiting period for workers in shared work programs to claim unemployment insurance for those that have been put out of work by COVID-19. The executive order will also eliminate the aid penalty for schools directed to close by state or local officials or those closed under a state or local declaration of emergency that do not meet 180-day requirements if they are unable to make up school days.

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