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Gov. Andrew Cuomo held a press briefing Monday morning on Long Island. (Photo and blue graphics courtesy of the Office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo)
Gov. Andrew Cuomo held a press briefing Monday morning on Long Island. (Photo and blue graphics courtesy of the Office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo)

Cuomo announces new, record-low COVID-19 test positivity rate - even as WNY is flagged

by jmaloni
Mon, Aug 24th 2020 02:55 pm

Reveals guidelines on school sports

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday announced a record-low COVID-19 test positivity rate of 0.66% across New York state.

At the same time, he said, “Western New York, we have a caution flag and we're focusing on it and trying to understand exactly what is happening. The number of positive tests is somewhat escalated. Not a cause for serious concern, but it is a caution flag and we're looking at it.

“There have been several clusters in Western New York. There was a steel plant in Erie County, a food processing factory, two nursing homes, people coming in for hospital procedures; a number of them have tested positive. There's seasonal labor forces that come in for farms. But, we do more testing in New York than any other state, so we can identify when you start to see an increase, a ‘cluster’ as we call it. That's very important, so you can then attack that cluster and you can stop the spread at that cluster. So, that's what we're looking at in Western New York.”

Of the 62,031 test results reported to New York state Sunday, 408 (0.66%) were positive. Each region's percentage of positive test results reported over the past three days is as follows:

The number of new cases, percentage of tests that were positive and many other helpful data points are available at forward.ny.gov.

Western New York has repeatedly been at or near the top, in terms of positive test cases. Erie County, in particular, has routinely reported the second-highest number of infected individuals.

Two weeks ago, Niagara Frontier Publications reached out to Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein for comment, and received none.

Following the governor’s comments, Poloncarz issued this statement:

“As always, Erie County’s Department of Health reviews all data related to COVID-19 closely, including trends for newly confirmed cases and positivity rates.

“While performing their case investigations, our contact tracers are documenting new cases as clusters within households, workplaces, and nursing homes, and also from unknown sources of transmission in the general public. We have seen these situations since the start of this pandemic and work with employers to ensure the safety of their employees and facility. As has been standard practice since the beginning of the outbreak, the New York State Department of Health is investigating cases and clusters within nursing homes.

“Our community has worked very hard to reduce the spread of this disease through non-pharmaceutical interventions – the small actions we take every day to wear a mask, physically distance, wash our hands and clean frequently touched surfaces. These actions protect us and they protect those around us. We need those actions to continue in order to keep our county and its most vulnerable community members healthy.

“Our region moved through the phases of ‘NY Forward’ to where we are today in phase four. Most businesses are back to a new normal of operations, and schools plan to open in some form next month. The last thing we want to see are closures of industries or in-school learning because of uncontrolled community transmission of COVID-19.

“And, as a note on professional sporting events, under current NYS guidelines no fans are allowed in Buffalo Bills games. If new cases and positivity rates continue to increase, it is extremely unlikely that NYS will allow fans into games.

“Our community has the tools and knowledge to keep the numbers of new cases low. It is important for anyone with symptoms or who has been a close contact of a confirmed case to get a diagnostic test. Individuals with symptoms should isolate themselves until they receive a test result. Tests through our Department of Health are free – call 716-858-2929 to schedule. The best way for our community and country to get through this pandemic is if we – all of us – remain vigilant.”

Niagara County Public Health Director Daniel Stapleton said, "The governor was correct to raise the issue that Western New York has seen an uptick in the last few days, but it's also important to remember the governor also said the numbers are not a cause for serious concern. Our rate of infection in Niagara County continues to go anywhere from just under 1% to just under 2% and that is where we still are, even with this uptick. 

“We are on top of tracing the contacts of any positives and looking to identify clusters so as to contain any spread. With the opening of schools just around the corner, it's important the public continues to do its part by wearing masks and maintaining social distance so our numbers remain low."

Youth Sports

Cuomo also provided an update on school sports.

“September: schools are back, and working through that issue. The question of youth sports has come up,” he said. “The state has done a lot of research on youth sports and the guidance we've come up with is this: What's called 'lower-risk' sports: tennis, soccer, cross-country, field hockey, swimming, can start in all regions of the state – can practice and play – starting Sept. 21. So, schools will be coming back, there will be a little bit of a period to gauge what's happening, and on Sept. 21 they can start to practice and play all across the state.

“There is guidance posted by the Department of Health on just how they should do it. But there will be no travel, practice or play permitted outside of the school's region. So, a school can play in the region. They can play with the contiguous region or county, but nothing outside of that until Oct. 19.

“Again, we're doing this in phases. We want to see what the effect is; we want to see how it works. Schools opening in general is a big question mark. What would the effect be? The fall is a big question mark. Many of the experts are suggesting that may be a second wave or reoccurrence, so phasing it will allow us to watch it.

“The ‘higher-risk' sports, where there is full physical contact – like politics – tackle football, wrestling, rugby, ice hockey, may continue to practice, but they're not authorized to play at this point.”

A press release stated these particular sports “may begin to practice on Sept. 21, but cannot play until a later date or Dec. 31.” Moreover, “Schools will have to limit capacity of indoor facilities to no more than 50% occupancy and limit spectators to no more than two spectators per player, in addition to implementing social distancing and face coverings."

Coronavirus Stats

The Niagara County Department of Health issued the following update on positive COVID-19 cases in Niagara County:

Source: Niagara County “heat map”

Erie County

As of 5 p.m. Sunday, Erie County had a total of 9,313 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 140 on Grand Island and 4,354 in the City of Buffalo. To date, 302,028 people have been tested (3.1% positive), with 676 deaths attributed to the coronavirus. Also, 83,064 people have taken an antibody test (6.7% positive).

Image courtesy of the Erie County “heat map”

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