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Governor says region troublesome ‘right out of the gate’ and continuing today
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Western New York’s state-leading percentage of new coronavirus cases is a direct result of resident behavior. Speaking to the press Friday, he echoed a statement made earlier this week by Erie County leaders.
Addressing a question posed by WGRZ-TV Channel 2 reporter Kelly Dudzik about incentivizing people to get vaccinated – recent numbers of available appointments suggest demand has plateaued – Cuomo said, “What do you do about the hesitant population? I think right now it's access and it's information. That's the main strategy. The numbers – the demand has dropped in Western New York; and the positivity rate is higher in Western New York. There's no doubt about that. But I think that is more of a community response and behavior.”
Cuomo’s team reported the statewide one-day positivity rate is 2.03% – the lowest it has been since Nov. 5. Western New York clocked in at 4.29% on Thursday, which, while lowering over past days, is still one-third more than region with the second-highest rate (Finger Lakes, 2.99%). Erie County had 435 new COVID-19 cases, while Niagara County reported 106.
“I think you have people who don't take as many precautions. They don't take it as seriously,” Cuomo said. “And the sequitur to that is, if I don't want to wear (a mask) – if I don't believe that COVID is a serious risk – if I don't believe in the precautions – then I don't believe in getting a vaccine. It’s a continuum.
“And we have seen that in Western New York; we've seen it in other parts of the state. From the get-go – from the very beginning – this is no new story in Western New York. When COVID first started in Western New York, you had the highest positivity rate – higher positivity rate than many other parts of the state right out of the box. One of the lowest mask compliance rates, right out of the box. One of the highest resistance to any rules, right – bars, restaurants, schools, businesses – because some people do not take the COVID issue as seriously.
“And, obviously, you will also see that in vaccinations; because, if I'm not going to wear (a mask), I'm not going to roll up my sleeves and get a shot.
“Now, I argue, informationally, look at your infection rate. And at one point, the numbers did change in Western New York. When they saw in the nightly news that people were going into hospitals, and people were dying, they took it seriously – and the numbers changed.
“I think we're now in a period where people have COVID fatigue; it's warm; we have vaccines; ‘I'm not as worried.’ You let your guard down. And I think we're also seeing that with vaccines,
“But that's why I reiterate – almost every day – look at the variations across the state. Look at the highest rate in Western New York. Ask yourself why. And that should be a discussion in Western New York. ‘Why do we have the highest infection rate in the state of New York? What is it? What is it? What is it about us in Western New York, that we have the highest infection rate?’
“And if you have the highest infection rate, you have people dying. So, that's a legitimate question and issue and discussion in Western New York – that I push every time I come (visit).”
He added, “If it's not behavioral, tell me what it is.”
Speaking to the media Tuesday afternoon, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein said behavior is a driving factor – infected people are not isolating, those exposed to a positive individual won’t quarantine, and there’s a general lack of adherence to safety measures (wearing a mask and/or social distancing).
“It is bad behavior, I think, that is driving a lot of our infections,” Burstein said.
“No area of Erie County is doing well,” Poloncarz said. “Some areas are doing horrible. And we are working with our partners to try to alleviate that situation – and we're talking with New York state, because this is really concerning.”
He explained, “This is something that is very concerning: 27 patients died in Erie County hospitals during the past week. So, I think it's very important that we realize that we are not out of the woods yet. That, as we've been seeing, increase in cases results in an increase in hospitalization; and it eventually results in an increase in deaths; and that's what we're seeing now, is an increase in deaths. … This is the highest amount of deaths we've seen in a seven-day period in quite some time.”
Poloncarz said, “There's one simple fact: The best and quickest way for our county, region, state and country to return to normal – whatever that was – is to vaccinate everyone. Too many people who are fighting the vaccines want us to immediately open everything. They say, ‘No, I'm not gonna take the vaccine, but we need to return to normal.’ The only way we're going to return to normal is if everyone is vaccinated.”