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Erie County: 'Not a good time' in fight against coronavirus spread

by jmaloni
Thu, Nov 5th 2020 09:20 am

Erie County positive tests jump to 5%

Speaking to the press Wednesday afternoon, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz provided a grim update on the coronavirus spread.

“For Nov. 3, there were 3,320 diagnostic tests received by the Erie County Department of Health. There were 167 new cases – for a rate of 5.0(%),” he said. “Not good; not good at all.”

Poloncarz added, “Here's a very distressing point: 728 people have died (in total). That's 11 since Oct. 26. Most but not all died in a Erie County hospital. It's my understanding that all but one was over the age 70 or older. One was in their 50s. But this is the most deaths we've had in months, I believe: 11 deaths. …

“Of the last seven days, there were six individuals who died in an Erie County hospital from COVID-19, which is the highest amount we’ve had in any one-week period in quite some time.”

Erie County Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein said, “You can see that, just in the past week, we've had a huge jump in the number of cases and the proportion of positive tests, where we've had almost an 80% increase just in the past week (1.3% to 2.4% positive). So, we're seeing many, many more cases now. It's not a good time.

“We are seeing these cases from a variety of situations, and from a variety of ZIP codes.”

She explained that, while the ZIP code leaders change weekly, the source of the increase in positive cases is more consistent.

“Many times, they're family clusters; you know, several households where multiple people in the house are positive,” Burstein said. “A lot of these are related to schools and in higher education – colleges, universities. Or people we know in those age groups. There are a few in nursing homes. Really, the vast majority are from people in the community, either from in households, and then many, many of the positives are in the college-age group, or primary grades age group.”

While the number of positive cases is rising, Burstein said Erie County is still below Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s micro-cluster hot spot zone threshold, which, if applicable, would require restrictions similar to when “New York State on PAUSE” was in place last spring.

 “None of these, right now, meet the criteria for ‘yellow,’ ‘orange’ or ‘red zones,’ ” Burstein said. “However, we are we following this very, very closely and working with our state partners to help them understand where (is) the source of all these cases.”

Burstein further noted, “We're seeing the sources of these cases from a variety of situations. We're seeing them from schools; we're seeing them from colleges and university; we're seeing people who report to us a travel history and then test positive. We're seeing a lot of cases in sports teams, both youth travel leagues or college/university sports teams. We're seeing a lot there. And we're seeing among households.

“One person tests in a household; you know, even a child could test positive. And then we test the other members of the household and pretty much everybody's positive. So, it spreads very, very quickly in a household.”

“We just want to remind Erie County residents that, if there's somebody in your household that is in isolation or quarantine, you really need to adhere to that concept – because the infection, COVID-19, can spread very, very quickly within households. So, you really have to make sure that that person in isolation or quarantine stays in their room, doesn't come out to rummage through the refrigerator, and when they do use a common bathroom that they really need to disinfect afterwards.”

She said, “Again, we're not really seeing any single source of transmission from all these cases; they're just from a variety of places in our community, from a variety of situations. So, no place is safe; you really always have to think about keeping the numbers small where you go; wearing your mask; physical distancing as much as you can; and washing your hands.”

Burstein said a disproportionately high number of positive cases – more than 1/3 – have come from school staff members.

Compounding this challenge, “We're seeing staff going outside and on school grounds and socializing, and that's where many of them are getting infected, too,” she said.

“We found, just before October, in September, we only saw about 10 cases in schools. And since the beginning of October, we've seen 215 cases in school,” Burstein noted. “So, it's really escalated. Schools are a place that we're looking at, too.”

What Can Be Done

Poloncarz said the 5% infection rate, “That’s bad. It’s not good. I’m not happy about it.”

“We need people to take this seriously,” he added.

“This is serious; and unless we take it seriously, we’re going to have continued growth,” Poloncarz said.

Burstein said, “Remember, our testing results are reflective of our community's behavior. So, this is something we could have control over. If people are going out, if they mask, if they stay into small groups. We’re even seeing transmission within small parties; so, there's really nothing safe.

“Try to hunker down. Stay indoors. Stay with your immediate family. But if you're going to do something fun, you can go out and take a walk. If you want to do it with your friend, wear a mask. Be outside.

“Think twice about traveling; think twice about going to gatherings – especially gatherings inside. And if you do go out, please wear your mask all the time. Stay as far away as you can from other people. And please wash your hands.

“These are reflective. These numbers are reflective of our community’s behavior.”

She said, “Nobody’s safe. (But) we know how to prevent infection and we, as a community, we really have to think about changing the way we do things to stay healthy.”

Poloncarz said, “COVID 19 is not going away. This is not a hoax. This is something that we’re going to be dealing with for the foreseeable future – at least until we have a vaccine in which 50% of the population has been vaccinated. And it doesn't look like we're gonna have a vaccine (until at least) middle-2021 before they can administer it.

“So, I want everyone to understand – as we said from the beginning – we are all in this together. I need each and every one of us to be our brother’s and sister’s keeper; to be there to protect each other just like we protect ourselves. We wear masks not only to protect ourselves, but to protect others. Wash your hands.”

He added, “We all get a little lax, but we all can do better. If we do that, we'll be better for it.

“I hate having to deal with, ‘Why is Western New York – why is Erie County – one of the highest in New York state?’ questions I get not just from media, but from New York state. My response is because certain people in the community aren't taking it seriously. The vast majority of people are. If everyone did, our numbers would not be like they are today.”

Micro-cluster Metrics

Erie County would enter into a yellow micro-cluster area with:

•A seven-day rolling average positivity above 2.5% for 10 days; and

•Ten or more new daily cases per 100,000 residents on a seven-day average.

Additional factors also could warrant a “yellow zone”:

•If a geographic area has minimum of five new cases per day on a seven-day average for geographic areas (i.e. ZIP code) with 10,000 or more residents, a minimum of three new cases on a seven-day average per day for areas with less than 10,000 residents; and  

•The increase in positive cases or positivity reflect community spread and cannot be mostly explained by a cluster in a single institution (e.g. nursing home, factory, college, etc.) or household transmission; and

•The State Department of Health, in consultation with the local department of health, finds that, based on the above listed metrics, and other epidemiological factors – such as an upward trend in total and daily hospital admissions from residents of this geographic area – that a zone designation is appropriate.  

Per the governor’s office, a “yellow zone – precautionary/buffer” area either is put in place as a broader buffer area to ensure COVID-19 outbreak is not spreading into the broader community ("yellow buffer zone") or is implemented independently based on the metrics ("yellow precautionary zone"). The purpose of a yellow buffer zone is to 1) restrict some activity to help prevent further spread from “red” and/or “orange warning zone” area; 2) provide a larger defined geographic area where metrics can be monitored daily to ensure COVID-19 is not spreading beyond the “red zone” or “orange warning zone.”

In a “yellow zone” or “precautionary zone”:

√ Houses of worship are limited to 50% capacity.

√ Mass gatherings are 25 people maximum, indoor or outdoor.

√ Businesses remain open.

√ Indoor and outdoor dining is restricted to four persons maximum per table.

√ Schools are open, but with mandatory weekly testing of students and teachers/staff for in-person settings.

Get Tested

Residents can call 716-858-2929 to schedule a free COVID-19 diagnostic test.

No symptoms need to be present, nor is a lab order or doctor’s referral required. An appointment is necessary, however.

School students and staffers seeking an ID NOW coronavirus test must be symptomatic to qualify.

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