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COVID-19: Niagara County proactively declares state of emergency, announces school closures

by jmaloni
Sun, Mar 15th 2020 04:20 pm
Niagara County Legislature Chairwoman Becky Wydysh addresses the media.
Niagara County Legislature Chairwoman Becky Wydysh addresses the media.

Though Niagara County still has not confirmed any COVID-19 cases, a state of emergency was declared Sunday – and all school districts will be closed Monday.

Niagara County Legislature Chairwoman Becky Wydysh held a press conference at the Warren J. Rathke Public Safety Training Facility in Lockport to announce these measures.

“There are no positive cases that have been confirmed in Niagara County as of yet, however, yesterday afternoon, we did see Monroe County announce positive cases, and then declare a state of emergency,” Wydysh said. “Neighboring Orleans County also then announced their own state of emergency. Late last evening, three positive cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Erie County; followed by their declaration of state of emergency just this morning.”

She added, “At this time, with our surrounding counties having done so, we feel it is the appropriate preemptive action to declare a state of emergency here in Niagara County, as of 2 p.m. today.

“Declaring state of emergency allows us the authority and the ability to implement public-protective measures, and continue to receive state and federal resources – should we need them.

“We know that coronavirus is moving in our direction, and that we will likely have positive cases in the near future.”

Wydysh read a statement from the gathered superintendents that stated, “Niagara County has issued a state of emergency and the Niagara County Health Department has recommended that all schools be closed for students effective Monday, March 16, and until further notice. …

“Districts will reassess student attendance weekly. Districts will be providing separate information on staff attendance, academics and food service.”

This closure applies to the Albion, Barker, Lockport, Lewiston-Porter, Medina, Niagara-Wheatfield, North Tonawanda, Newfane, Niagara Falls, Starpoint, Royalton-Hartland, Lyndonville and Wilson school districts.

Lewiston-Porter Superintendent of Schools Paul Casseri said updates would be provided on the district website, https://www.lew-port.com/.

“We are beginning a plan in place to have meals delivered; we want to get that up and running by Tuesday or Wednesday of this week for those students on free and reduced (meal plans),” he said. “All of our students have one-to-one computing, so we’re working on opportunities for students to access work so that we can mitigate any learning regression that may occur for the length of time that we're out.

“Our most important concern is to keep our students safe, our families safe, and our staff safe. Every decision we’re making is based on that.”

Interim Niagara County Sheriff Michael Filicetti provides an update.

Wydysh was joined by Niagara County Director of Public Health Daniel Stapleton, Emergency Services Director Jonathan Schultz, Interim Sheriff Michael Filicetti and Dr. Clark Godshall of Orleans/Niagara BOCES.

Stapleton emphasized, “We are operating as if this coronavirus is already here in Niagara County.”

He explained, “We have 12 individuals that are quarantined in their home. We have done a number of testings, and so far we do not have a case in Niagara County.

“We’re not waiting for a positive case to dictate what we do. We’re looking at the science; we’re looking at the facts; and we’re making decisions based on conversations we’ve had with our experts – and will continue to do that.”

Stapleton explained, “We all know there’s no vaccination for coronavirus; and the earliest possible date we’re looking at is 12-18 months. More likely 18 months. Also, antivirals are not effective. Those, hopefully, will be available within four to five months.”

Godshall said he expected the superintendents to convene and provide another media update in a week.

Wydysh noted, “At this time, it is not our intention to close county buildings, as we do provide necessary services to our residents. We do, however, ask that everyone use good common sense and follow the CDC guidelines when you’re deciding whether or not you should be coming into those offices – for your health, and for that of our employees.”

Both Wydysh and Stapleton advised people to follow Centers for Disease Control preventative measures, such as washing hands; avoiding contact with one’s eyes, nose or mouth; and staying home when possible or when symptomatic.

“Please remember that many of our services can be completed by a phone call or through mail, and we ask you to do that whenever possible,” Wydysh said. “We also ask you to do that in other areas of your life. Take precautions where you can. When shopping, seeking entertainment, visiting friends and family – again, not just for your health, but for those who you might come into contact with, who have underlying health concerns.”

Stapleton said, “Do those things that you can do on a daily basis to reduce the risk to you and those that you love.

“Also, if you have symptoms consistent with coronavirus – which are identical to the seasonal flu – call your personal physicians before you go to their office. Do not go there directly; talk to them. If you do not have a primary care physician or can’t get a hold of yours, and you’re going to an immediate care center, or the local emergency department, call them first. Don’t go there. Don't go there and spread the disease that you might have.”

LEARN MORE: WATCH PRESS CONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS:

Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued state declarations limiting attendance at public events to less than 500 people, mandating smaller events and restaurants cut their capacity by 50%, and stating only medically necessary visits will be allowed at nursing homes.

At that time, New York State Health Department Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, "Our No. 1 priority is protecting the public health, and every action the governor and the state of New York have taken thus far have been in furtherance of that goal. Public health experts have been clear that limiting large public gatherings where there is potential for close contact is a critical way to slow the spread of this virus. This regulation will help keep people healthy and safe."

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HERE is a link to the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, the coronavirus, from the New York State Department of Health.

The Centers for Disease Control has an extensive list of what to do, not do, and where/how to find help.

Find more information at these sites:

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